Secretary of Labor Julie Su shares insights and solutions on unemployment among Asian workers.
By Xintian Tina Wang
The nation continues to see a stable unemployment rate at 3.7 percent, with 353,000 jobs created in January, according to the latest U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics released today. The report highlights growth in professional and business services with 74,000 jobs created, healthcare with 70,000 jobs created, and retail trade with 45,000 jobs created, contributing to a positive economic outlook. However, there are still nuanced challenges faced by Asian American and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander (AANHPI) communities, experts say.
In a recent conversation with Julie Su, Secretary of Labor, she told AsAmNews that she thinks it is important to disaggregate data to better understand the diverse experiences within the AAPI community.
“As an Asian American labor secretary, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, for the first time, provides disaggregated data on Asian American demographics,” says Su. “Every month, we report on Native Hawaiian Pacific Islander data. We also break down data within AANHPI, ensuring information for South Asians, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese is disaggregated. And we Asian Americans understand why that’s important because each community is unique, and Asian American is not monolithic.”
While overall AAPI unemployment rates tend to be lower at 2.9 percent compared to its White (3.4 percent) and Black (5.3 percent) counterparts, the newly revealed data shows disparities among different subgroups. Notably, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander individuals experience higher unemployment rates at 5.8 percent than the national average, indicating areas where equity efforts need to be intensified.
Addressing the unique challenges faced by AAPI individuals in the job market, Su highlighted that language access was also identified as a critical challenge. She shared that there are efforts underway at the Department of Labor to provide resources in multiple Asian languages to ensure equal access to job-related information. Su reiterated President Biden’s vision for an inclusive economy, emphasizing investments in infrastructure, clean water, and accessible high-speed internet. She highlighted the significance of dispelling stereotypes around certain jobs, particularly those in construction and manufacturing, to ensure that AANHPI communities recognize these opportunities as pathways to the middle class.
“The Department is working with labor leaders, federal partners, and employers to ensure that federal investments reach communities that have historically been left behind, including Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders. To that end, the Department has updated our Language Access Plan and is working to translate materials into more languages to better reach workers with limited English proficiency, including Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander workers,” says Su.
In response to the overall employment landscape, Lily Zheng, a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategist and author shed light on the challenges faced by Asian American workers. Zheng, who goes by the pronoun they, told AsAmNews that the mass layoffs in the tech industry, which began in 2022 and intensified in 2023, have disproportionately affected non-senior roles where Asian Americans are often concentrated due to systemic biases. They believe that this is the perfect time to combat workplace discrimination and the so-called “bamboo ceiling.” This phenomenon often hinders the career progression of Asian Americans, limiting their advancement within organizations.
“Mass layoffs historically target the most junior and least tenured workers in an organization. Given the relatively high concentration of Asian American workers in non-senior roles due to exclusion and bias, it is likely that Asian American workers were disproportionately affected, alongside Black, Latino, Indigenous, and other non-White workers who are similarly affected by mass layoffs,” says Zheng.
Zheng provided valuable insights for workers affected by or concerned about layoffs, encouraging them to continuously enhance their skills, learn about their rights, advocate against discrimination, and build strong relationships with peers from historically marginalized communities. Choosing employers with a proven track record of inclusive treatment was also emphasized as a crucial factor in navigating the job market.
As the country celebrates overall economic stability, it is imperative to recognize and address the unique challenges faced by AANHPI communities. The commitment to equity and inclusion remains central to building a truly robust and resilient economy that benefits all Americans.
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