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Public opinion, racial bias and labour market outcomes in the USA

Abstract

Here we study the role of negative shifts in public opinion in the economic lives of under-represented racial groups by investigating sudden changes in views towards Asian people following the anti-Chinese rhetoric that emerged with the COVID-19 pandemic, and associated changes in employment status and earnings in the US labour market. Using data from the Current Population Survey, we find that, unlike other under-represented groups, Asian workers in occupations or industries with a higher likelihood of face-to-face interactions before the pandemic were more likely to become unemployed afterwards. While widespread along the political spectrum, negative shifts in the perceived favourability of Asian people, and not of other under-represented groups, were much stronger among those who voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and could have been more influenced by the anti-Asian rhetoric.

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Fig. 1: US unemployment rate over time by race/ethnicity.
Fig. 2: Unfavourable opinions towards different races/ethnicities over time by Trump voting and Fox News viewership.

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Data availability

This study uses five sources of data collected by third parties: the publicly available CPS data from IPUMS (https://cps.ipums.org/cps/), data from Dave Leip’s Atlas of US Elections for the 2016 presidential election (https://uselectionatlas.org/2016.php), data from Nationscape (https://www.voterstudygroup.org/data/nationscape), data on COVID-19 death rates from the New York Times (https://github.com/nytimes/covid-19-data) and the FRED database (https://fred.stlouisfed.org). All data are publicly available at no cost.

Code availability

Our analysis was performed using Stata v.18 and Python v.3.5. All analysis code used in this study has been deposited in the Zenodo repository (https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.10558775)34.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. Agan, S. Black, J. Dana, E. M. Girsberger, G. Hanson, J. Hunt, M. Kuhn, K. Lang, N. Prakash, R. Triest and numerous seminar and conference participants at El Colegio de Mexico, RWI—Leibniz Institute for Economic Research, Melbourne History Workshop, NOVA University Lisbon, Rutgers University, University of Technology Sydney and the Australian Political Economy Network for helpful comments and discussions. A special thanks to J. Cao for serving as our statistical expert. All errors are our own. The authors received no specific funding for this work. The data providers had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript. The findings and conclusions expressed in this Article are those of the authors. The authors extend their acknowledgement to all individuals affected by racial bias, whose experiences served as the motivation for the analyses performed here.

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All of the authors developed the study concept, designed the study, wrote the paper and approved the final version of the paper for submission.

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Correspondence to Kaveh Majlesi.

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Nature Human Behaviour thanks Pauline Grosjean, Justin Huang and Morgane Laouenan for their contribution to the peer review of this work. Peer reviewer reports are available.

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Supplementary Tables 1–10 and additional robustness checks.

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Majlesi, K., Prina, S. & Sullivan, P. Public opinion, racial bias and labour market outcomes in the USA. Nat Hum Behav (2024). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-024-01904-w

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