Asian Americans make up a complex demographic group covering people from a range of distinct nationalities and backgrounds. While most government agencies that report economic and job data only report at the level of Asian Americans, this data still provides insights into the employment situation of Asian Americans compared to the rest of the population.

Asian Americans generally have the lowest unemployment rates, except during the pandemic.

Asian Americans often have the lowest unemployment rate of all race and ethnic groups, even lower than white Americans for many months of the year. However, Asian Americans have had higher unemployment rates than white Americans during the pandemic, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In April, the unemployment rate among Asian Americans was 5.7%, slightly lower than the national average of 6.1%. Asian American women continue to experience higher unemployment than Asian American men — in April, the unemployment rate for Asian American women was 6.1%, whereas it was 5.0% for Asian American men.

Asian Americans have experienced higher unemployment than white people for most of the pandemic.

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While the pandemic drove up unemployment, 2020’s unemployment rate was lower than those in the wake of the Great Recession. This is partly due to more people leaving the labor force in 2020 and not being counted as unemployed. The Asian American labor force participation rate, or the percent of people either employed or actively seeking work, was 62.8% in April, above the overall labor force participation rate of 61.7% and the white rate of 61.5%.

Asian Americans are highly represented in several high-paying occupations — but also lower-paying personal care services roles.

In general, lower-wage workers — and particularly women — were more likely to lose their jobs during the pandemic in 2020 compared to higher-earners. Asian Americans are more likely to be found in higher-paid roles and have the highest median weekly earnings of any group — $1,310 per week in 2020 compared to the overall median of $984.

Asian Americans are most represented in technical occupations as well as personal care and services.

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Asian Americans are most represented in computer and mathematical occupations, including software developers and computer systems analysts. They are 23% of employees in that field despite only making up 6.4% of the overall workforce. Asian Americans are also more represented in relatively high-paying architecture, engineering, and life and social science occupations. Asian Americans make up 32.8% of computer hardware engineers and 31% of medical scientists, where median weekly earnings are $1,889 and $1,612, respectively.

Asian Americans also make up a disproportionate share of workers in personal care and services occupations, which include hairdressers, childcare workers, and nail stylists. Asian Americans make up 10.1% of employees in those roles. Asian Americans make up 70.3% of people specifically working as manicurists and pedicurists. The median weekly earnings for manicurists and pedicurists in 2020 was $607, 38% below the national average of $984.

Asian Americans are least likely to work in farming, fishing, and forestry occupations as well as construction and extraction occupations. For example, Asian Americans make up only 1.9% of the nation’s 1.1 million carpenters and 1.4% of the 1.9 million construction laborers.

Asian American representation in several of the highest-paying and one of the lowest-paying occupations reflects the range of social and economic experiences of Asian Americans. Find more data on race in America and follow along as USAFacts continues to gather data during Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage month.

Last updated
Labor Force Statistics from the Current Population Survey