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Tag Archives: Asian

Employment Trends of Asians and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders

May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, so let’s take a closer look at national employment statistics for Asians and for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders. We’ll focus on how labor market conditions for these groups continue to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

BLS has been collecting data in the Current Population Survey on the labor market characteristics of people who identify their race as Asian or Native Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander since 2003. Looking at historical data, the employment–population ratio—the percentage of the population that is employed—is generally higher for Asians and for Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders than the U.S. average. The ratio in 2019 was 62.3 percent for Asians and 66.2 percent for Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, well above the national average of 60.8 percent. The ratios for all groups declined sharply in 2020 with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Employment–population ratios had not yet fully recovered in 2021, but the ratios for Asians and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders continued to be higher than the U.S. average. The greater likelihood of employment among Asians and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders reflects the fact that larger shares of both groups are ages 25 to 54 than the overall population. People in this age range are more likely to be employed than people in younger and older age groups.

Employment–population ratios of the total population, Asians, and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, 2003–21 annual averages

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

The following chart shows how the labor market improved in 2021 compared to 2020 but remained below its 2019 pre-pandemic level. The employment–population ratio increased by 1.6 percentage points from 2020 to 2021 but remained 2.4 percentage points below its 2019 level. Similarly, this ratio increased by 3.3 percentage points for Asians and 1.4 percentage points for Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders in 2021. The ratio for Asians in 2021 was still 1.7 percentage points lower than in 2019, while the ratio for Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders was still 4.0 percentage points lower.

Employment–population ratios of the total population, Asians, and Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders, 2019–21 annual averages

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

The increase in the employment–population ratio between 2020 and 2021 varied for different groups within the Asian population. For example, this measure rose by 3.7 percentage points for Asian women and 2.9 percentage points for Asian men in 2021. The rise in the employment–population ratio was about twice as large for workers ages 16 to 24 (4.0 percentage points) and 25 to 54 (4.1 percentage points) than those age 55 and older (2.0 percentage points). Similarly, the increase in the percentage of foreign-born Asians (3.9 percentage points) who were employed was more than twice the increase for native-born Asians (1.8 percentage points). (Unfortunately, we can’t make these same comparisons for Native Hawaiians or Other Pacific Islanders because of their small sample size in the survey.)

Percentage point change in employment–population ratios for Asian groups, 2020 to 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Asian Americans trace their roots to many different distinct and culturally diverse peoples. We collect information on seven different Asian groups—Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Other Asian. As shown in the chart below, Asian Indians and Chinese are the largest groups of Asian Americans. Japanese, at 5 percent, represent the smallest share.

Percent distribution of the Asian population age 16 and older by detailed groups, 2021

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Although the employment–population ratios for many of these groups increased in 2021, most remained below their 2019 pre-pandemic levels. After having the largest decline in their employment–population ratio from 2019 to 2020 (-9.2 percentage points), Vietnamese had the largest over-the-year gain in 2021 (7.1 percentage points) but remained 2.1 percentage points below the 2019 level. The employment–population ratio for Koreans in 2021, 5.9 percentage points below the 2019 level, had the largest decline over this 2-year period. The employment–population ratio of Asian Indians, however, had returned to the 2019 level in 2021.

Employment–population ratios of detailed Asian groups, 2019–21

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

This is just a sample of the information available on the labor force status of Asian Americans and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders. Explore some of our other resources to expand your knowledge.

Employment–population ratios, 2003–21 annual averages
YearTotal populationAsianNative Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

2003

62.3%62.4%63.6%

2004

62.363.067.4

2005

62.763.470.2

2006

63.164.270.6

2007

63.064.369.4

2008

62.264.367.8

2009

59.361.261.8

2010

58.559.960.1

2011

58.460.062.2

2012

58.660.163.0

2013

58.661.262.9

2014

59.060.463.5

2015

59.360.462.8

2016

59.760.965.7

2017

60.161.562.9

2018

60.461.664.9

2019

60.862.366.2

2020

56.857.360.8

2021

58.460.662.2
Employment–population ratios, 2019–21 annual averages
YearTotal populationAsianNative Hawaiian or Other Pacific Islander

2019

60.8%62.3%66.2%

2020

56.857.360.8

2021

58.460.662.2
Percentage point change in employment–population ratios for Asian groups, 2020 to 2021
CharacteristicChange from 2020 to 202120202021

Total

3.357.360.6

Men

2.965.468.3

Women

3.750.253.9

Age

Ages 16 to 24

4.033.437.4

Ages 25 to 54

4.173.577.6

Age 55 and older

2.037.339.3

Country of birth

Foreign born

3.957.060.9

Native born

1.857.559.3
Percent distribution of the Asian population age 16 and older by detailed groups, 2021
Asian groupPercent distribution

Asian Indian

22.9%

Chinese

22.1

Other Asian

17.7

Filipino

14.9

Vietnamese

10.1

Korean

7.2

Japanese

5.0
Employment–population ratios of detailed Asian groups, 2019–21
Year201920202021

Asian Indian

66.6%63.2%66.6%

Filipino

63.955.860.6

Vietnamese

61.252.059.1

Other Asian

61.156.559.7

Chinese

60.456.659.7

Korean

60.355.654.4

Japanese

56.153.853.1

A Labor Day Look at How American Workers Have Changed over 40 Years

Forty years ago, teenagers ages 16 to 19 made up 8 percent of all U.S. workers. By 2019, that share fell to just 3 percent. With fewer teenagers working, the face of American labor looks much different today than it did when the Bee Gees ruled the American pop charts.

Happy Labor Day! The U.S. workforce has been changing over many generations. It’s been changing with respect to the work people do. For example, an increasing share of workers is engaged in service or technology work, while a decreasing share is engaged in factory or farm work. My focus today, however, is on the people who do the work.

Here at BLS, we spend a great deal of time and effort measuring and reporting on employment. How many jobs are there this month? What kind of jobs? But as Labor Day approaches, I’d like to shift the focus away from employment and jobs and toward labor itself. Who are the people holding down the jobs that we count? What is the face of American labor? And how has labor’s profile changed—and yes, it has changed—over a generation or more?

So today I’m not going to say much about what jobs workers hold or what their jobs pay. Instead, I’ll focus on more personal characteristics of the people who hold the jobs—characteristics that are not a function of workers’ jobs, but that are intrinsic to the workers themselves. Is America’s employed population getting older or younger? Are African Americans, Hispanics and Latinos, Asians, and other groups making up an increasing share of employment? And so forth. Call it the “composition” of America’s employed population. To examine this, I’ll be using data from the Current Population Survey, or CPS, which is a large, monthly survey of many thousands of U.S. households.

BLS collects data directly from lots of employers, such as businesses and state and local governments. This data collection is behind our monthly news release about how many jobs were added or lost in the U.S. economy. It gives us a vital, current, and accurate picture of work in America—but not of workers.

To learn more about workers, rather than about just their jobs, we can’t ask their employers. We have to ask workers themselves. BLS partners with the U.S. Census Bureau each month to survey some 60,000 U.S. households about their work and other topics. We can learn at least three important things by surveying workers that we can’t learn by surveying employers. First, we can learn about things like self-employment, multiple jobholding, and “alternative” work arrangements, like so-called “gig” work. Second, we can learn about people who are not currently employed. In fact, BLS uses these data each month to measure how many are “unemployed,” roughly meaning they are actively looking for a job and available to start. Third, and most relevant here, we can learn about people’s personal characteristics—things like their age, race, and marital status, which their employers might not know or might find hard to detail in a BLS survey.

Let’s look at data from the CPS to explore how the personal characteristics of America’s employed population have shifted. I’ll share some of my own favorite nuggets of information, which I think you’ll find interesting. I’ll mostly compare 1979 with 2019—a 40-year span that roughly coincides with two peaks in U.S. employment and economic activity. The comparisons would look similar if we looked at 2020 or today, but I think the long-term trends are better understood “peak to peak” than in comparison to the more recent but very unusual COVID-19 economy. Along the way I’ll link to some BLS resources that go deeper into these topics. Let’s dive in!

Where have the teenagers gone? In 1979, 8 percent of U.S. workers were ages 16 to 19. By 2019, just 3 percent were. Over the same 40-year period, the share that were ages 16 to 24 fell from 23 percent to 12 percent. Two things happened. First, the age composition of the entire population shifted. In 1979, the tail end of the large, post-World War II “baby boom” generation was about 16 years old. The generation that came after this group was smaller, so its share of the workforce was smaller too. Second, young people’s “participation rate”—the share that were working or seeking work—declined. In fact, that rate peaked at 58 percent in 1979, then fell to 34 percent by 2011. This huge change coincided with increases in school enrollment and educational attainment. This example illustrates how two forces combine to reshape the face of American labor: the shifting composition of the working age population, and shifts in participation rates of different groups.

The American workforce has aged. Between 1979 and 2019, the fraction of the employed population that is 65 years old or older grew from 3 percent to 7 percent. The share that is 55 or older grew from 15 percent to 24 percent. Forces behind this trend include the aging of baby boomers (they are mostly 60 or older today), medical and other advances that have extended lives and health, and less physically strenuous jobs. The participation rate story is a little more complicated: As a group, today’s older women always were more likely to work for pay than their mothers or grandmothers were. Participation among older men, in contrast, first ebbed and then rebounded across these 40 years.

Percent of employed people by age, 1979–2019 annual averages

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

There are more working women. By 1979, women’s share of the employed population, at 42 percent, had already been growing for some time; it was up from just 28 percent in 1948. It kept growing for about 20 more years, before leveling off at around 47 percent by 2000 and remaining there through 2019.

What’s love got to do with it? Between 1979 and 2019, the trend in marital status was more pronounced than the trend in gender. The fraction of all workers who were unmarried grew from 36 percent to 48 percent. This trend was sharper among men (31 percent to 45 percent) than women (44 percent to 51 percent).

Percent of employed people by sex and marital status, 1979 and 2019 annual averages

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Racial and ethnic diversity is changing too. The U.S. population has long been very diverse, shaped by colonization, slavery and emancipation, and migration. Over the last 40 years, workforce diversity has been shaped mostly by immigration and by differences in fertility among racial and ethnic groups. Between 1979 and 2019 the non-White fraction of all U.S. workers grew from 12 percent to 22 percent. The fraction who are Hispanic or Latino (who may be of any race) grew from 5 percent to 18 percent. A note of caution: the survey questions about race and ethnicity changed over the years, and this might skew the measurements a little, but not enough to change the story that non-Whites and Hispanics and Latinos represent a growing share of employed people. The latest survey questions provide lots of detail about diversity today.

Percent of employed people by race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, 1979 and 2019 annual averages

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

The more you survey, the more you know. Changes in the CPS and other surveys affect more than just our measures of labor diversity. Of course, we can’t measure everything all the time. Big household surveys can be expensive for taxpayers and burdensome for the thousands of households who answer the long questionnaires. Over time, we may change how we think about who we are and what we do, so survey questions must change as well. New survey questions can inform us better about where we are today, but they can make it harder to compare conditions over time. For example, beginning in 1992, the CPS questions about educational attainment were changed to emphasize degrees earned rather than years of school completed. We know that the fraction of U.S. workers age 25 or older who had a bachelor’s degree or higher grew from 27 percent in 1992 to 42 percent in 2019, but we don’t know for sure what percentage of the workforce was this educated in 1979.

The CPS has its roots in a tough time for American labor. The Great Depression of the 1930s brought mass unemployment to the United States. Back then, there was no sure way to measure the problem or track progress toward recovery. By the end of the 1930s, the U.S. launched the monthly household survey that today we call the CPS. The survey has gone through many changes, but it has measured unemployment each month since then. For economists like me, the history of the CPS is almost as interesting as the history of American labor. If you happen to be an economist or statistician yourself, BLS and the U.S. Census Bureau can tell you all you need to know about this great source of information. But not today – it’s Labor Day! Save the technical stuff for after the celebration.

Percent of employed people by age, 1979–2019 annual averages
YearAges 16–19Ages 20–24Ages 25–54Ages 55–64Age 65 and older

1979

8.2%14.5%62.6%11.7%3.0%

1980

7.814.263.411.73.0

1981

7.214.164.311.52.9

1982

6.613.865.311.52.9

1983

6.313.666.011.22.9

1984

6.113.566.810.92.7

1985

6.013.067.610.72.6

1986

5.912.668.410.42.7

1987

5.912.069.210.22.7

1988

5.911.569.89.92.8

1989

5.811.070.59.82.9

1990

5.511.370.99.42.8

1991

5.011.071.89.32.8

1992

4.810.972.39.32.8

1993

4.810.772.59.22.8

1994

5.010.472.59.13.0

1995

5.110.072.89.22.9

1996

5.19.673.19.32.9

1997

5.19.672.99.52.9

1998

5.49.672.59.82.8

1999

5.49.772.110.02.9

2000

5.39.771.810.23.1

2001

4.99.771.510.73.1

2002

4.69.870.911.53.2

2003

4.39.870.612.13.3

2004

4.29.970.012.43.5

2005

4.29.769.512.93.6

2006

4.39.669.013.43.7

2007

4.09.668.813.83.8

2008

3.89.468.414.34.1

2009

3.59.168.015.04.4

2010

3.19.167.715.64.5

2011

3.19.367.015.94.8

2012

3.19.466.116.35.1

2013

3.19.465.616.55.3

2014

3.19.565.316.75.4

2015

3.29.464.916.85.7

2016

3.39.364.716.95.9

2017

3.39.264.517.06.0

2018

3.39.064.417.16.2

2019

3.39.064.117.16.6

2020

3.28.564.517.26.6
Percent of employed people by sex and marital status, 1979 and 2019 annual averages
Marital status1979, total2019, total1979, men2019, men1979, women2019, women

Married, spouse present

63.6%52.3%69.0%55.0%56.1%49.1%

Never married

24.132.323.332.625.231.9

Widowed, divorced, and separated

12.315.57.712.318.719.0
Percent of employed people by race and Hispanic or Latino ethnicity, 1979 and 2019 annual averages
YearWhiteNot WhiteHispanic or Latino

1979

88.3%11.7%4.8%

2019

77.722.317.6

Employment Trends of Asians and Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders

May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, so let’s take a closer look at national employment statistics for Asians and for Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders (NHPIs). We’ll focus on how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the labor market for these groups.

BLS has been collecting data in its household survey since 2003 on the labor market characteristics of people who identify their race as Asian or NHPI. Looking at historical data, we’ve noticed that the employment–population ratio—the percentage of the population that is employed—is generally higher for Asians and NHPIs than for the U.S. average. The ratio in 2019 was 62.3 percent for Asians and 66.2 percent for NHPIs, well above the national average of 60.8 percent. The greater likelihood of employment among Asians and NHPIs reflects the fact that both groups—particularly NHPIs—are more likely to be ages 25 to 54 than the overall population. People in this age range are more likely to be employed than those in younger and older age groups. Regardless of age, employment declined sharply for Asians and NHPIs in 2020, reflecting the impact of the pandemic.

Employment–population ratio, 2003–20

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

To get a better sense of how Asians and NHPIs fared in the labor market during the pandemic, we compared employment–population ratios for the 12 months before the pandemic with estimates for the 12 months after it started. The following chart shows the decline in the average employment–population ratio for the 12 months ending in February 2021 compared with the 12 months ending in February 2020. The employment–population ratio for NHPIs fell 6.0 percentage points, and the ratio for Asians fell 5.4 percentage points. These compare with a decline of 4.7 percentage points for the overall population.

Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

We used the same approach to look at different groups within the Asian population. The employment–population ratio for Asian women declined by 5.7 percentage points from the 12 months before the pandemic to the 12 months following the onset of the pandemic. This was more than the 5.2 percentage point decline for Asian men. Asians age 55 and older had a greater drop in their employment–population ratio (−6.1 percentage points) than did Asians in younger age groups: −5.2 percentage points for Asians ages 25 to 54 and −4.7 percentage points for Asians ages 16 to 24. The decline in the percentage of foreign-born Asians who were employed—6.1 percentage points—was greater than that for native-born Asians (−4.2 percentage points). (Unfortunately, we can’t make these same comparisons for NHPIs because of their small sample size in the survey.)

Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios for Asians, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

Asians trace their roots to many different distinct and culturally diverse peoples. Our household survey collects information on seven different Asian groups—Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Other Asian. Of these groups, the percentage point decline in the employment–population ratio for the 12 months after the onset of the pandemic was largest for the Vietnamese (−8.8 percentage points). This likely reflects the large number of Vietnamese workers employed in the other services industry. This industry—particularly the nail salon component, in which Vietnamese workers are especially prevalent—lost much of its employment in the early months of the pandemic, when mandatory business closures, stay-at-home orders, and fear of the illness kept many people from engaging in both labor market and consumer activity. By contrast, employment–population ratios for Asian Indians and for Japanese dropped by 3.4 percentage points and 3.0 percentage points, respectively; these two Asian groups are more likely to be employed in industries that lost smaller proportions of employment, such as professional and business services. Notably, workers in this industry were more likely to telework due to the pandemic than workers employed in other services.

Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios for Asian groups, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic

Editor’s note: Data for this chart are available in the table below.

If you want to learn more about how Asians and NHPIs are faring in the labor market, please check out our data on race and ethnicity.

Employment–population ratio, 2003–20
YearTotalAsiansNative Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders

2003

62.3%62.4%63.6%

2004

62.363.067.4

2005

62.763.470.2

2006

63.164.270.6

2007

63.064.369.4

2008

62.264.367.8

2009

59.361.261.8

2010

58.559.960.1

2011

58.460.062.2

2012

58.660.163.0

2013

58.661.262.9

2014

59.060.463.5

2015

59.360.462.8

2016

59.760.965.7

2017

60.161.562.9

2018

60.461.664.9

2019

60.862.366.2

2020

56.857.360.8
Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic
GroupPercentage point change

Native Hawaiians and Other Pacific Islanders

-6.0

Asian

-5.4

Total

-4.7
Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios for Asians, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic
GroupPercentage point change

Total

-5.4

Men

-5.2

Women

-5.7

Age

Ages 16 to 24

-4.7

Ages 25 to 54

-5.2

Age 55 and older

-6.1

Country of birth

Foreign born

-6.1

Native born

-4.2
Percentage point decline in employment–population ratios for Asian groups, first 12 months of COVID-19 pandemic compared with 12 months before pandemic
GroupPercentage point change

Vietnamese

-8.8

Filipino

-7.6

Korean

-6.7

Other Asian

-5.6

Chinese

-4.9

Asian Indian

-3.4

Japanese

-3.0

Total

-5.4