HomeAsian AmericansNew York City's unemployment rate among Asian Americans jumps 6,900%

New York City’s unemployment rate among Asian Americans jumps 6,900%

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A year ago, the unemployment rate for Asian Americans was 2.5%, lowest among all ethnic groups in the US. It was well on its way to a record 2.1% unemployment rate in June. That all changed because of the coronavirus.

That record low unemployment rate is a forgotten memory because of the impact the coronavirus has had on small businesses, a great number of them employing Asian Americans.

Last year, 2,100 self-identified Asian workers had filed for unemployment according to New York’s Department of Labor. In the last four weeks alone, 147,000 unemployment claims had been filed by Asian Americans — an astonishing 6,900% increase.

The increase for Asian American workers dwarfs the unemployment spikes experienced by other racial and ethnic groups: Whites saw a 1,840% increase, 1,260% for black workers, and 2,100% for Hispanic and Latino workers in New York.

For the last week of April, the national jobless total rose to a staggering 30 million — or around 18 percent of the workforce largely because of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus, according to CNN.

The alarming hike of the unemployed among Asian Americans was made possible because New York state kept records of the demographics of the applicants for unemployment payments. Although other jurisdictions haven’t released similar data, but it is safe to assume that parallels can be seen in those cities and states with large Asian American communities.

An analysis by the Pew Research Center released last month found that Asian American entrepreneurs have a relatively strong presence in hospitality and food services, retail trade, transportation, social assistance and other personal services, therefore elevating their financial risk from the COVID-19 outbreak.

Wellington Z. Chen, executive director of the Chinatown Partnership, a nonprofit that focuses on revitalizing the neighborhood, told CNN, “You can’t cut nails from six feet away, right?” said Chen. “A lot of people are not going to hang on. [They’re] not going to make it.”

Even with seating of over 700 people, on the weekends, New York’s Chinatown’s biggest restaurant, Jing Fong, had dim sum aficionados of every race lining up waiting for a table. Business started to drastically slow down when the Trump administration kept connecting the coronavirus to China, scaring away a lot of their clientele. 

The stay-at-home mandates meant to slow the spread of the virus was the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.

“It became more and more obvious that we couldn’t even cover the payroll for that day,” Jing Fong owner Truman Lam told CNN.

Soon after, the self-isolation policies began, Lam made the final decision to lay off 170 staff members across two locations and encouraged them to apply for unemployment benefits.

Nationwide, 51% of the country’s Chinese restaurants have closed due to the coronavirus, according to data from Womply, a credit card processing company that took the data from more than 400,000 transactions. 

Wombly indicates that more closures are likely, leading to more unemployed servers and kitchen staff.

As the coronavirus’ deadly impact became evident and the administration began to take the pandemic seriously, xenophobia and fear of Chinese and other Asians was already turning Chinatown and other Asian American neighborhoods in Flushing and Brooklyn into ghost towns.

It was not only non-Asians afraid to enter Chinese-owned establishments, Asian workers were fearful of venturing out or commuting to work for fear of being attacked for just being Asian.

New York is the current coronavirus epicenter in the US with the highest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths, but that unwanted crown could shift to other communities as the coronavirus spreads.

Asian businesses from restaurants, nail salons and barber shops in California have reported similar drops in business because of the cornavirus and the fears that it spawns.

 The spike in the Asian American unemployment rate is just a harbinger of what’s to come. For Asian American jobless, the pain will most likely last at least until a vaccine is found, which experts predict might not arrive until  2021 but could last for beyond that. Asian Americans, on average, stay unemployed longer than Whites. During the last recession, the length of unemployment jumped much higher than for any other racial or ethnic group, reaching a 12-month average high of 48 weeks, according to Fortune Magazine.

AsAmNews has Asian America in its heart. We’re an all-volunteer effort of dedicated staff and interns. Check out our new Instagram account. Go to our  Twitter feed and Facebook page for more content. Please consider interning, joining our staff, or submitting a story. 


  1. RE: NYC unemployment rate among Asian Americans jumps 6,900%:Asian Americans in NYC tend to work at small businesses or in the healthcare field. Most of the Asians that I see on a daily basis in this city are those in medical scrubs. So if anyone is attacking Asians, they are basically attacking healthcare workers who are risking their own lives to fight COVID.


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