Why Do Asian Americans Have the Worst Long-Term Unemployment?

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Asian Americans are the best educated ethnic group in the United States, by a long shot.* Logically, that means they should have the least severe unemployment, given that more educated workers tend to have an easier time in the job market. Instead, according to a recent study by the Economic Policy Institute, the Asian community suffered from the most severe long-term joblessness of any racial demographic in 2010, during the slow, early period of the economic recovery. 

As shown in the graph below, 48.7 percent of unemployed Asian Americans had been out of a job for 27 weeks or more. Blacks were next, at 48.5 percent, followed by Whites, at 42.7 percent. 

Longterm_Unemployment_By_Race.PNG

What makes the situation even odder is the more educated Asians are, the more they fall behind whites. Asians with just a high school diploma were more likely to be employed than whites; however, Asians with a bachelor's degree or higher more likely to be unemployed.

The report's author offers up three explanations for the mystery. First, there's the California problem: About a third of all Asian Americans live in the Golden State, which has disproportionately high joblessness, both short term and long-term. Second, there's immigrant bias: Perhaps employers prefer to hire U.S.-born workers. Third, there's racial bias. If Asians had the same long-term unemployment as their equally-educated white peers, their long-term jobless rate would be 8.1 percentage points lower.

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*About 34 percent of Asian Americans have a bachelor's degree, compared to 25 percent of whites. Another 23 percent have an advanced degree, versus 14 percent for whites.

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Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

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