Xenophobia and Financial Struggles Surge during Age of COVID-19

Hannah Laundromat. | Photo by Alexandra Halloran

By Alexandra Halloran

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly all businesses outside of those providing medical services have suffered. But small business owners, especially those of Asian descent, have suffered disproportionately. 

Along with the financial hardships suffered by all small business owners, the fact that the coronavirus seemed to have originated from China, the resulting xenophobia seems to have intensified the negative impact against Asian-owned and operated businesses.

Hannah’s Laundromat on Metropolitan Ave has been in business for nine years and like many other businesses, they were heavily affected financially. Before the pandemic, they were just like every other business, doing their job and making a good income due to people needing to wash their clothes every once in a while. The laundromat had about 4-5 workers to spread out the workload and make it easier for everyone working there until the pandemic hit. Then everything got worse and everything changed in a blink of an eye. The COVID-19 pandemic hit in March 2020 and everything shut down. Hannah’s Laundromat was no exception.

Claire and her sister Grace have been running their business for nine years and have been struggling since the beginning of the pandemic. And while many small businesses saw a rebound over the past six months, they are still struggling.

The sister received nearly $14,000 in federal assistance, but their business hasn’t gone completely back to normal. Claire estimates that it’s back to 75 percent of the pre-pandemic level, but people are still scared of catching Covid or coming into contact with other people.

When it comes to COVID-19 mandates, Claire and her sister are very strict. Several signs hang around the shop advising customers to wear a mask and to sanitize hands before using the machines. Grace and Claire say that it annoys both of them that some people don’t follow these mandates despite the several signs around the shop. Even with these mandates in place, the business hasn’t been doing any better, along with the fact that they have been two workers short since the beginning of the pandemic because of the risks they would suffer, assuming that they were at high risk for infection. 

“The people that used to work for us both had medical problems so after covid started, we didn’t fire them, they just didn’t come back,” Claire said.

This was another reason business went down since they were down two workers, had to spread the hours between the two sisters, then they had to cut down the hours they were open which caused them to have even more financial problems.

Hannah’s Laundromat isn’t the only Asian American-owned small business that has experienced these kinds of struggles throughout the pandemic. Small businesses in Flushing, Queens and Manhattan Chinatown have been hit the hardest even before the pandemic hit New York. Chinatown in Manhattan and Flushing showed declines in consumer spending over a month before the pandemic hit, but when the pandemic did hit, it hit hard. These two neighborhoods suffered with customer spending going down to 70 to 82 percent which is upsetting when compared to the citywide decline of 65 percent, according to The Asian American Foundation report Small Business, Big Losses.

Research done by the foundation concluded that 57 percent of businesses owned by Asian American residents received PPP loans. Small business owners who were suffering applied for government assistance but were then declined for some unknown reason. Those that applied for loans either didn’t receive anything, received very little compared to other business owners and/or weren’t able to due to the language barrier that some people struggle with, especially in the Asian American community.

However, COVID-19 isn’t the only struggle Asian American small business owners suffered with. A study done by UCLA further shows that businesses owned by those who are

Asian Americans experienced heavy xenophobia due to the virus’s Asian origins which led to Asian Americans being impacted by COVID-19 much earlier and “more deeply because of the racialized blaming.” Not only were Asian Americans experiencing xenophobia on top of the coronavirus pandemic, but the unemployment rate also rose much faster and quicker compared to white people.

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