Asian American workers have in just a few months gone from having the lowest unemployment rate in the US to one of the highest.
From Vietnamese nail salons and Cambodian donut shops to Malaysian banana leaf restaurants, Asian-owned businesses are going under but nobody seems to notice.
The coronavirus pandemic is taking a heavy toll on other minorities like Latinos and African Americans, attracting national headlines but Asian American job losses are a lot less visible.
“Asian Americans are absolutely overlooked,” said Marlene Kim, an economist at the University of Massachusetts, Boston. “People have the sense that Asians are a model minority with good jobs and are still doing OK.”
But people of Asian ancestry and their businesses are facing rising levels of racism and xenophobia directed at them during the pandemic, says a report in Science News.
Many people associate Asians with the origins of Covid-19 and take their business elsewhere.
Nearly 25% of Asian Americans are employed in industries such as restaurants, retail, and personal services such as nail salons, all of which are being hit hard.
Location is at the root of many new challenges. Asian Americans tend to be concentrated in places like New York and California, where the virus is taking a heavy toll.
Many say President Donald Trump hasn’t helped by repeatedly talking about the “Chinese virus” or the “China plague”.
Paul Ong of the University of California, Los Angeles, noted that Chinatown in LA suffered an earlier and longer fall in customer numbers than the city’s other ethnic commercial neighbourhoods.
“People are avoiding these areas partly because of the myth that somehow we are involved with the spread of the coronavirus,” Ong told NPR. “That is untrue and unfair but it has a huge impact on our ethnic economy.”
This can be a real problem for Asian Americans who are new to the country or have limited English skills. In pre-pandemic times, the social and economic networks of immigrant communities could open doors and create opportunities. But Ong warned that over-reliance on those networks can be a trap during a crisis like Covid-19.
“If you’re in an ethnic sector and all the restaurants are being shut down, your opportunity to find work is minimal if not non-existent.”