Exit Spring Mountain

A year and counting of COVID in Las Vegas: The unemployed

Episode Summary

The pandemic had catastrophic effects on the country as a whole—and Las Vegas in particular. Pandemic unemployment is a lingering issue here—why do Asian immigrant women have the highest rate of long-term pandemic unemployment? How are mutual aid organizations like the Ninth Island Aunties and an Asian food pantry helping community members get through the lean times—and overcome the shame of accepting help?

Episode Notes

This episode is the first in a three-part series about the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on Southern Nevada's AAPI communities. Nevada was hit harder by the pandemic shutdowns than any other state—and the numbers continue to bear that out. As of this fall, Nevada still has the highest unemployment rate in the country. In particular, Asian immigrant women, who are overrepresented in service industry work, have the highest rates of long-term pandemic unemployment. So how is Las Vegas fighting back, for all of its workers?

We talk with Bethany Khan, Spokeswoman for Culinary 226, the largest union (and the largest AAPI workers' organization) in Nevada, about the rally to bring everyone back to work. We also speak with union member Stella Kalaoram, a housekeeper at a popular Strip hotel, about what it takes to clean a room with the new pandemic requirements—and how "unskilled work" is an unfair description of the jobs that service workers do.

Professor Preeti Sharma, who studies labor in the immigrant service sector, helps us understand why service work is devalued, and how that made service workers particularly vulnerable when the pandemic hit. She also explains why Asian immigrant women are so heavily represented in the service sector—and how that led to Asian immigrant women facing the highest rates of long-term pandemic unemployment.

Las Vegans aren't taking this sitting down. Penny Chua, co-owner of the world-famous Thai restaurant Lotus of Siam, tells us how businesses can take care of their employees when disaster strikes—but also how challenging that can be.

Mutual aid organizations like the Ninth Island Aunties, started by Cathi Minami, have helped locals like Kanoe Kalua find their footing when COVID impacted her family—in most of the states that record this data, Pacific Islanders have the highest rates of COVID death and hospitalization, so Kanoe's family was doubly impacted. Another aid organization, the Asian Community Development Council, started an Asian food pantry to provide culturally-appropriate food aid to families who prefer Asian ingredients like cabbage, soy sauce, and rice noodles.

Exit Spring Mountain is a podcast from Nevada Public Radio. Our team includes executive producer Sonja Cho Swanson, host Lorraine Blanco Moss, research assistant Nessa Concepcion, academic research consultant Mark Padoongpatt, and news director Joe Schoenmann. Sound editing, mixing and mastering is by Regina Revazova of Open Conversation.