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While Virginia Unemployment Begins to Fall, It Remains High in the Asian American Community

Although some sectors of the economy are making a comeback from the crisis created by the pandemic, many communities in Virginia are still struggling.

Although the unemployment rate in Virginia has started to fall for white workers, unemployment still remains between 13 percent and 14 percent for Asian American workers.

Delegate Mark Keam is a Democrat from Fairfax County and the first Asian-born member of the General Assembly. He says the community is overrepresented in certain parts of the economy.  “A lot of Asian immigrants who work in Virginia tend to be in service sector jobs where they deal with customers and retail directly, so for example, restaurants or laundromats or nail salons or other types of small businesses," Keam says. "And they of course were the first line of businesses who were shut down because of COVID.”

Chris Wodicka at the Commonwealth Institute says there’s another dimension to these statistics.   “Due to the nature of the pandemic and the virus and some of the conspiracy theories floating around there was strong uptick in xenophobia and anti-Asian racism that occurred. And so we saw Asian-American cultural districts and Asian-American restaurants being hit harder and earlier than other businesses," Wodicka notes.

He says lawmakers could take action during the special session to help this community by easing restrictions for Medicaid available to lawfully present immigrants, allowing them to get help without having to prove a 10 year work history first.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.