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Korean-American Unemployment at a 34-Year High

Korea Times New York, Voices That Must Be Heard, New York Community Media Alliance, News Report, Yong-il Sin Posted: Dec 18, 2008

NEW YORK - The number of unemployed Asian Americans, including Korean Americans, has shown a rapid increase in the last months. Nationwide, 72,000 Asian Americans were unemployed last month; this brings the current reported unemployment rate among Asian Americans up to 4.8 percent.

According to U.S. Labor Department unemployment statistics released on December 5, the total number of Asian Americans without work in November was 343,000 compared to 271,000 unemployed workers in October, or 3.8 percent of Asian Americans nationwide.

The number of unemployed persons in other ethnic or racial groups for the same period (October and November) rose as follows: Caucasians, from 6,923,000 (5.5 percent) to 7,336,000 (5.8 percent); African Americans, from 1,952,000 (11 percent), to 1,979,000 (11.2 percent). Unemployment among Asians (from 271,000, 3.8 percent, to 343,000, 4.8 percent) increased by a full percentage point, while rates in the other two groups increased by only 0.3 and 0.2 percent, respectively. The statistics show that the month-to-month impact has been highest on Asian Americans.

Yet comparative statistics for all groups from the same period last year (November 2007) show that despite being at an all-time high, the percentage point rise in unemployment among Asian Americans was not as high as in the other groups. The rate among Caucasians increased from 3.9 percent to 5.8 percent, a rise of 1.9 percent; among African Americans, the rate rose from 8.3 percent to 11.2 percent, an increase of 2.9 percent. Among Asian Americans, the increase, 3.6 percent to 4.8 percent, was only 1.2 percent. It appears that despite the continued economic depression in America, Asian Americans have sustained themselves relatively well against the other groups in the one year period from 2007 to 2008.

However, the problem this year is serious. During the past 11 months, job openings across America have disappeared rapidly. A total of 1,910,000 jobs was lost up until November, and this phenomenon is predicted to last throughout the coming year. Analysts envision a turnaround sometime in late 2009, and all racial and ethnic groups of workers will be affected. Economists suggest that the unemployment rate will reach an 8 percent national average. For Asian Americans, this means unemployment will climb much higher in the coming months. Massive holiday layoffs are being seen nationwide, with companies such as AT & T., Viacom, Avis, and Budget to name just a tiny fraction cutting staff in the tens of thousands.

There are no specific statistics for Korean-American unemployment from the Department of Labor, as the report does not subdivide by nationality. But with Korean Americans comprising about 10 percent of the Asian-American population nationally, it is easy to see that many Korean Americans have lost their jobs, with the highest losses coming last month. While the Department of Labor's announcement of a 34-year high in unemployment rate was an across-the-board indicator, as a general statement it also reflects upon the plight of Korean-American workers. The Korea Times and other media outlets have reported directly on the situation for Korean and Korean-American workers in the United States. These reports indicate that, due to downsizing, a large number of H-1b visa holders, who had been working in Korean branch companies across the country, were fired last month. Many are faced with the difficult problem of how to keep their visas, safeguard their legal status, and survive without income. Things are expected to get worse, with many Korean companies in New York and New Jersey expected to cut staff in the coming year.

Meanwhile, the N.Y. State Department of Labor announced on December 8 that the unemployment rate has gone up from 4.6 percent in October of 2007, to 5.7 percent in October of 2008. Following this trend, the rate is expected to climb to 6 percent. This translates into a loss of some 175,000 jobs throughout the city and 225,000 jobs statewide.

This article was translated by Sun-yong Reinish of New York Community Media Alliance.

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