Navigating the Complex Intersections: Job Loss, Unemployment, and AAPI Cultural Barriers in California


Empowering AAPI Success with Insights on California’s Workforce, Small Businesses, Leadership Training, and More!

In California, the convergence of job loss, unemployment, and homelessness presents a multifaceted challenge, compounded by cultural barriers that hinder equitable access to opportunities. The complex interplay between these factors emphasizes the urgent need for a comprehensive approach to address the systemic inequities and social disparities prevalent in our communities. In this context, exploring the complicated intersections of job loss, unemployment, homelessness, and cultural barriers becomes vital for fostering inclusive solutions and advancing social equity across the state.

As of December 2023, California grapples with a concerning unemployment rate of 5.1%, a notable increase from the previous year’s 4.1%. This surge in joblessness poses severe challenges, especially in high-cost living areas, where individuals face difficulties coping with soaring housing costs.

Cultural Barriers for AAPI-Owned Businesses and Workers

While unemployment affects individuals across various demographics, certain groups, such as the Asian Americans and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, face unique challenges and barriers. AAPI unemployment rates, though below the state average, are comparatively high when viewed on a national scale. AAPI owned businesses and workers face cultural challenges everyday in the workforce. Language barriers, a lack of representation, and racism are a few of the common cultural hurdles faced.

Language Barriers

The Pew Research Center highlights the pervasive language challenges faced by Asian immigrants in the United States, creating hurdles in daily life and communication. Out of the top 10 languages spoken in California, including English, four belong to the AAPI community, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and Korean. This emphasizes the linguistic diversity within the AAPI population across the state. Limited English proficiency restricts access to essential services and employment opportunities, underscoring the stress and frustration caused by language barriers. Language barriers can hinder effective communication with customers, clients, and colleagues while creating feelings of isolation or exclusion in the workplace.


Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a distressing surge in anti-Asian sentiment across the United States. Hate crimes targeting AAPI individuals in major cities have seen a staggering 169% increase in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the same period in 2020. Additionally, a report from Stop AAPI Hate revealed a total of 6,603 reported hate incidents, spanning verbal harassment, physical assault, civil rights violations, and online harassment, between March 19, 2020, and March 31, 2021. Despite the recent media attention on these incidents, it’s essential to recognize that the AAPI community has endured both violent macroaggressions and subtle microaggressions for a significant period. These microaggressions, though seemingly innocuous, can have detrimental effects on individuals’ stress levels, self-esteem, psychological well-being, and contribute to systemic inequities across various domains, including education, the workplace, and health care. For Asian-owned businesses and AAPI members of the workforce, such discrimination can result in reduced business opportunities, employment discrimination, and barriers to career advancement, further exacerbating economic disparities within the community.

Challenges in Growth Opportunities

Within the federal workforce, AAPI employees encounter barriers in recruitment, career advancement, and retention. Challenges in recruitment stem from management’s unfamiliarity with diversity-focused practices, leading to attitudinal biases hindering career growth. Career advancement is impeded by negative perceptions related to national origin, including accents and language, affecting evaluations and promotions. Furthermore, AAPI employees often experience higher voluntary separation rates due to discriminatory practices, insufficient accountability for management, and limited opportunities for advancement.

Although AAPI entrepreneurs have played pivotal roles in some of the United States’ most successful startups, they often face obstacles in securing venture capital and loans due to unique biases. The article suggests addressing these barriers by encouraging investors to include AAPIs in diversity initiatives, using systematic criteria to evaluate startups and reduce unconscious biases, and forming diverse investment teams for better results. It underscores the economic significance and purchasing power of the AAPI community, emphasizing their substantial yet underappreciated contributions to the economy.

Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion

Traditional approaches like compulsory training and workplace guidelines have proven insufficient in fostering lasting diversity and harmony. Addressing diversity challenges requires a comprehensive strategy that goes beyond conventional training methods, considering the intricate web of cultural, linguistic, and systemic barriers. Tackling the interconnected issues of job loss, unemployment, and homelessness demands a thorough understanding of the diverse challenges faced by different communities. AAPI workers and businesses, in particular, require tailored approaches that address language barriers, cultural nuances, and discriminatory practices in the workplace, contributing to a more equitable and inclusive economic landscape.

The CalAsian Foundation’s Impact

The CalAsian Foundation is committed to advancing the prosperity of the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community at the local, state, and national levels by fostering leadership empowerment. The foundation strives to empower AAPI leadership by nurturing relationships, fostering workforce development, promoting civic engagement, and encouraging political participation. You can see these efforts through the NextGen Empower U, Catalyst Leadership, and AAPI Lift programs.

NextGen Empower U program

The NextGen Empower U Program is dedicated to equipping the next generation of AAPI individuals with the essential skills and knowledge needed to thrive in today’s workforce. “It’s for first or second generation immigrant families that are coming to the US and don’t understand how the American system works, or education, business, how to find jobs–how to be successful at their jobs and all that,” said NextGen Program Director Jim Tabuchi. “So the idea behind the program is to work with first and second generation Asian Americans–either they immigrated from their home countries or maybe their parents did but in either case they’re still trying to figure out the American system.”

Over a span of three months, this initiative focuses on defining personal success, fostering relationship-building skills, enhancing communication abilities, facilitating educational advancement, promoting career development, and imparting financial management strategies. Participants benefit from mentorship, gain access to practical tools and techniques for success, acquire lifelong learning skills, and receive insights from community and industry experts.

Catalyst Leadership Program

The Catalyst Leadership Program has been instrumental in cultivating a new generation of diverse leaders in the region. This comprehensive 9-month program was designed to empower participants in enhancing their leadership capabilities, forge meaningful connections across various sectors, learn from experienced leaders, and contribute to community projects aimed at addressing critical regional challenges. “I re-created the program and started with recruiting and doing a lot of mentoring, and to me that’s been one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever done in my life–the reason why is because it’s forming relationships with these really high potential young adults who are still fairly early in their careers,” said Former Catalyst Leadership Program Director Jim Tabuchi. “The biggest payoff for me definitely wasn’t the money or anything like that. It was more about watching these people’s lives–their careers and their impact in the community really take off.”

The Catalyst Leadership Program recognizes and addresses the cultural barriers that AAPI members of the workforce may encounter in professional settings. Through targeted training and support, the program aims to empower AAPI professionals to navigate and overcome these challenges, fostering a more inclusive and equitable workplace environment for all.

The program empowered former Catalyst participant Chao Vang to cultivate a robust leadership skillset, enabling him to advance in his career despite the cultural barriers often encountered by the AAPI community in the workforce. “Catalyst was a great opportunity for me to expand my knowledge and have access to a network of leaders that I continue to collaborate and engage with,” said Vang. “In doing so, it prepared me for my current role, impacting students’ lives.”

The initiative provides mentorship, fosters a deeper understanding of personal leadership styles, offers opportunities for community engagement, and provides insights from leaders in both community and corporate realms, preparing participants for leadership roles.


The AAPI Lift Program is designed for AAPI individuals in the private sector aspiring to transition into public service roles and offers a unique opportunity for leadership development. Led by seasoned AAPI political professionals, this six-month program delivers comprehensive training and mentorship covering various aspects of public service, including policy setting, coalition building, campaign strategies, and effective governance. “As an AAPI person I think we need more of us in office,” said AAPI Lift Program Director, Rob Fong. “I’m on those boards and commissions to kind of reflect our world view—our experience and cultural upbringings.”

Participants of the program will gain valuable insights from AAPI political figures, receive personalized support, and develop a versatile skill set tailored for immediate and future public service endeavors, all while building a robust peer network.

The CalAsian Foundation’s commitment to helping the AAPI community grow is evident through its approach to leadership empowerment. By fostering relationships, nurturing workforce development, promoting civic engagement, and encouraging political participation, the foundation addresses the cultural barriers faced by AAPI workers and business owners in the US workforce, and more specifically, in California. Through programs like NextGen Empower U, Catalyst Leadership, and AAPI Lift, the foundation provides essential skills, knowledge, mentorship, and networking opportunities to empower individuals to succeed in today’s competitive environment. These initiatives not only equip participants with the tools for personal and professional growth but also contribute to the broader goal of building a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable workforce and society.