Skip to content
Employment Relations

Landmark study reveals racial bias and political rhetoric as key drivers for Asian American unemployment during COVID-19

Monash University 3 mins read

An international team of researchers have investigated the relationship between public opinion and the labour market outcomes for underrepresented races and ethnicities in the USA. 

Published in Nature Human Behaviour, the research is the first of its kind to explore the effects of racial bias and political rhetoric against Asians in the US labour market. 

Using data from the Current Population Survey, the study found, unlike other underrepresented groups, Asian workers in occupations or industries with a higher likelihood of face-to-face interactions were significantly more likely to become unemployed afterwards. 

In addition to facing an increased risk of unemployment, Asian workers in these jobs who remained employed during the pandemic experienced a substantial decline in their weekly earnings. Importantly, this was not the case for other underrepresented ethnicities. For the first time in recent history, these findings show Asians’ unemployment rate exceeded that of white workers and it was entirely driven by those working in jobs that require face-to-face interactions.  

Professor Kaveh Majlesi, from the Department of Economics at Monash University, said “We examined labour market data between January 2019 and May 2021, from the Current Population Survey and found that, relative to white employees, all minorities performed poorly in the job market during the pandemic but, unlike other minorities, the increase in Asian unemployment was entirely driven by those working in occupations that are more likely to require face-to-face interactions. Among Asian Americans who worked in more face-to-face occupations and industries, those that were still employed saw a drop in their weekly earnings. Something not observed among other racial groups.” 

The researchers categorised individuals into four groups on the basis of race and ethnicity; Asian and Pacific Islander, White, Black and Hispanic. The researchers then quantified the negative effects of the pandemic on employment outcomes for Asian workers among others, examining employment trends for the same individuals before and after the COVID-19 outbreak.

The authors also find that, consistent with a role for public opinion affecting labour market outcomes, the effects are larger in magnitude in strongly Republican states, where anti-Asian rhetoric might have had more influence. Additionally, they show that, while widespread along the political spectrum, negative shifts in views of Asians were much stronger among those who voted for President Trump in 2016 and those who report watching Fox News channel.

Professor Silvia Prina, from the Department of Economics at Northeastern University, explains how the research contributes to existing literature about the detrimental impacts racial bias against underrepresented groups can have on the economic lives of those targeted groups.

“Our results raise caution about the increasingly divisive racial rhetoric that is currently apparent in politics and the media in the USA and beyond. The role of media and public opinion plays a significant role in shaping the life outcomes of individuals who come from underrepresented groups and therefore it’s important to acknowledge how concerning these negative public views can be towards an underrepresented group,” Professor Prina said. 

The anti-Chinese rhetoric by political figures such as Donald Trump and right-wing media outlets during the pandemic was likely to have played an important role in people’s perception of Asian people and their willingness to interact with them as workers, therefore resulting in increased unemployment rates among Asian workers. 

The researchers found that after the COVID-19 outbreak, Asians faced discrimination in their daily lives almost everywhere, however further research is needed to determine the outreach of such findings. 

To view the research paper, please visit:

- ENDS -


*Professor Majlesi is overseas and can respond to emails, but responses could be delayed due to time zone differences.


Professor Kaveh Majlesi, Department of Economics, Monash University, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia and Department of Economics, Lund University, Lund, Sweden.

Professor Silvia Prina, Department of Economics, Northeastern University, Boston, MA,

Associate Professor Paul Sullivan, Department of Economics, American University, Washington, DC, USA


Helena Powell

Media Communications Officer,

M: +61 474 444 171



Monash Media

T: +61 (0) 3 9903 4840


For more Monash media stories, visit our news and events site


More from this category

  • Employment Relations, Youth
  • 15/07/2024
  • 00:01
atWork Australia

Workforce barriers tripping up young Australians and how to overcome them

15 July 2024 Only half of young people feel confident in achieving their current or future career aspirations1, new research has found. This, coupled with a youth unemployment rate of 9.7% as of May 20242, underscores the critical need for targeted support and resources to equip young individuals with the foundational skills essential for navigating today's complex job market. For young people, particularly those from marginalised groups like Indigenous youth and women, there are additional barriers that exacerbate the challenge in securing employment and advancing careers including things like systemic inequities, limited access to quality education and training as well…

  • Contains:
  • Agriculture Farming Rural, Employment Relations
  • 11/07/2024
  • 11:13

More Disasters for Wilmar Management

According to the most recent data, Wilmar mills have barely reached 60% capacity in recent days of crushing, meaning on average Wilmar’s eight mills are each sitting idle for nearly ten hours every day, due to a combination low staffing and poor maintenance by inexperienced contractors. This follows a report that the Plane Creek Mill experienced a lengthy stoppage, due to a snapped screw, which initially snapped in 2022, and hasn’t been properly repaired since. This stoppage also means the attached ethanol distillery has also been sitting idle. AWU Northern District Secretary Jim Wilson said this issue was a direct…

  • Agriculture Farming Rural, Employment Relations
  • 04/07/2024
  • 12:16

Disastrous start to the crush for Wilmar

Wilmar is under pressure as the crush begins to a series of disasters. Over the past week, there has been multiple breakdowns and stoppages due to the experienced staff moving onto greener pastures. AWU Northern District Secretary Jim Wilson said the effects of Wilmar’s low wages and disrespectful treatment of staff are coming back to bite them. “We’ve seen a comedy of errors at many mills, all caused by the lack of experienced skilled workers, and in some cases, any workers at all.” “As of 10am on Tuesday Wilmar’s mills were crushing at 23.6% of their total capacity, a devastating…

Media Outreach made fast, easy, simple.

Feature your press release on Medianet's News Hub every time you distribute with Medianet. Pay per release or save with a subscription.