Immigrant unemployment during the pandemic recession spiked at a far higher rate than U.S.-born unemployment in New York State for the first time in recent decades, according to a new report from Immigration Research Initiative.
In the 20 years preceding the pandemic unemployment rates for immigrants and U.S.- born New Yorkers were about the same, rarely varying by more than a percentage point and never more than two points, the report shows. Yet in March 2021, as the unemployment rate reached 14.5 percent for immigrants, the gap between immigrants and U.S.-born New Yorkers was more than double any gap in the last 20 years: 4.3 percentage points.
Unemployment rates for people of color in New York were also different from the trend during the pandemic recession. Black and Hispanic/Latinx unemployment rates have for the past 20 years been higher than white unemployment, but the rates for both jumped dramatically higher than for white New Yorkers. And unemployment for Asian American and Pacific Islander New Yorkers shot up far above the rate for whites, which is usually a close comparison, to the level of Black and Hispanic/Latinx New Yorkers.
The economic pain of the recession is also not over. The unemployment rate for immigrants is still today 8.2 percent, about as high as it was at the peak of the Great Recession.
Data in the report is based on a 12-month rolling average of the Current Population Survey (CPS).
“A driving reason job loss affected immigrants and people of color so starkly is that comparatively few could work from home,” said David Dyssegaard Kallick, director of Immigration Research Initiative and author of the report. “Immigrants and people of color are especially likely to work in restaurants or health care or other areas where work continued even during the depths of the pandemic,” Kallick added. “But they are also concentrated in restaurants and hotels and other areas where the work just disappeared. Where they are not concentrated is in jobs that can be done remotely.”
“This timely report reinforces what AAF and our member agencies are seeing on the ground,” said Jo-Ann Yoo, executive director of the Asian American Federation. “Asian workers, especially low-income and undocumented ones, are highly dependent on a few key service industry jobs, such as restaurants, personal care, and ride-share. This dependency made them and their families extremely vulnerable to the economic and health consequences of this pandemic. This concentration in a few industries also exposes the incredible need for workforce development programs to help widen economic opportunity for Asian immigrants.”
Angeles Solis, Lead Organizer with Make the Road New York, a member group of the Fund Excluded Workers coalition, concurred. “This report provides proof of what we’ve been seeing in our communities for months. The pain of the pandemic wasn’t spread equally, and immigrant families took an exceptionally hard hit. Rather than take the risk that immigrant communities will suffer disproportionately the next time a crisis hits, we need to expand our safety net to ensure undocumented workers and other vulnerable workers in New York have a lifeline when they need it most.”