Economic outcomes may be the most fundamental indicator of whether immigrants to Canada have integrated successfully. How do visible minority groups compare with people who are not members of visible minorities in workforce participation, unemployment rates and median employment incomes? How do the outcomes of first- and second-generation immigrants compare? What differences can be observed among various visible minority groups and between genders? With Canadian immigration policy largely designed to make up for the aging of our workforce, how does the relative economic success of younger members of visible minorities contribute to addressing the demographic challenge?

To get the answers to these and other questions, I have been analyzing data from the most recent census, in 2016. I’ve focused on the economic and social outcomes of visible minority adults 25 to 34 years old. There are about 1.2 million people in this group, about 27 percent of all 25- to 34-year-olds in Canada. The majority are immigrants (first generation); about 25 percent are Canadian-born (second or further generation).

Statistics Canada defines 10 categories of visible minorities. In addition, its “Not a visible minority” (NVM) category “includes respondents who reported ‘Yes’ to the Aboriginal identity question as well as respondents who were not considered to be members of a visible minority group.” Data for Indigenous people (“Aboriginal” in Statistics Canada’s census terminology) are included in my analysis for comparative purposes, although their identities and issues are distinct from those of the 10 visible minority groups in census reports.

Why look at the 25-to-34 age cohort? Members of visible minorities have formed about 80 percent of immigrants since the 2000s. Their children — born, educated and raised in Canada — are entering the workforce in growing numbers.

By pointing out differences in outcomes for immigrants and their children, whether by gender, generation or visible minority group, analysis of census data highlights areas where policies and programs are working and others where Canada must improve its integration efforts.

Participation in the labour force

The participation rate is defined by Statistics Canada as “the share of the working-age population that is working or looking for work.” Figure 1 displays the participation rates for university-educated 25- to 34-year-olds in the largest provinces. The most striking finding is that participation rates for visible minority women are notably lower than for visible minority men, across most provinces and most visible minority groups. By contrast, the gap between men and women in the NVM group is minimal.

Gender differences are greatest in the South Asian and Arab groups, followed by those of Latin American, West Asian, Korean and Japanese origin. Among Black people and persons of Filipino and Southeast Asian origin, participation rates for both men and women are broadly comparable to those of the NVM group.

Participation rates in Quebec are low for Chinese and West Asian men and Arab, West Asian, Korean and Japanese women in relation to comparable groups in other provinces.

In Atlantic Canada, participation rates (not shown in figure 1) follow the same overall trends. Gender gaps in participation rates are wider within visible minority groups, with the exception of the South Asian, Black and Filipino groups.

For Indigenous people living off-reserve, participation rates are generally comparable to those of the NVM group, except in Atlantic Canada where they are slightly lower.

Figure 2 displays participation rates for the same age cohort in six of Canada’s largest Census Metropolitan Areas (CMAs), a more relevant view given that the majority of people in visible minority groups live in urban centres. Here again, many visible minority groups are seen to have lower rates of participation in the labour force.

Among people of Filipino and Southeast Asian origin in all cities, participation rates for both men and women are largely comparable to the rates for the NVM group. For Black people, the difference is slightly greater. Groups with the largest differences in participation rates, as compared with the NVM group, are people of Arab, West Asian and Korean origin, followed by people from South Asia, particularly with respect to participation of women.

In Montreal, the participation rates of women (and of men of Chinese origin) are particularly low in comparison with participation among the NVM group, although this gap is characteristic of most cities.

The participation rate of Indigenous people is comparable to that of the NVM group.

Unemployment rates for 25- to 34-year-olds are shown in figure 3, by province and gender. Black people and those of Arab and West Asian origin have significantly higher unemployment rates in most provinces than NVM job seekers. The unemployment rate for people of Filipino origin is lower than that of the NVM group; the rate for those from Southeast Asia is relatively close.

In Quebec, the gaps between unemployment rates for visible minority job seekers and those in the NVM group are significantly larger than the comparable gaps in other provinces, for both men and women. For most groups, with the exception of people of Filipino and Southeast Asian origin, unemployment rates of their university-educated members are twice or more the rates of unemployment in the NVM group, for both men and women.

British Columbia and Manitoba have the smallest gaps overall in unemployment rates between visible minority groups and the NVM group.

The difference between genders is largest in Quebec, but the gaps are also significant in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In Atlantic Canada (not shown on figure 3), visible minority men have lower unemployment rates than NVM men, with the notable exception of Black men. Visible minority women, on the other hand, have higher unemployment rates, with the exception of women of Chinese origin.

Indigenous off-reserve people have generally higher unemployment rates than the NVM group. Notable exceptions are Indigenous people in Manitoba and Indigenous women in Atlantic Canada.

Figure 4, looking at unemployment rates by group and gender in six large CMAs, shows greater and more significant variations within the 25-to-34 age cohort than there are among provinces.

The low unemployment rate of Filipino immigrants and their descendants in all cities except Ottawa-Gatineau is noteworthy. In Montreal, men and women in most visible minority groups have higher unemployment rates than the NVM group; in Vancouver, men have lower unemployment rates overall than the NVM group.

In most cities, groups with unemployment rates that are higher than that of the NVM group include Black people and those of Arab and West Asian origin. Among South Asian, Arab and West Asian job seekers, differences in unemployment between genders are significant — twice as great or more than the minimal differences between NVM men and women. People of Chinese and South Asian origin have slightly higher unemployment rates than those in the NVM group.

Unemployment rates for Indigenous persons are somewhat higher than for the NVM group, and particularly for men, with the notable exceptions of those in Edmonton and Ottawa-Gatineau.

The contrast between overall unemployment rates in Calgary (hit harder by the oil price slump) and in Edmonton (greater stability given greater government employment) is striking.

Figure 5 highlights unemployment rate differences between visible minority groups and the NVM group, by level of education. It shows the amount by which each population segment’s unemployment rate is higher or lower than the rate for people of the same age and education level in the NVM group.

Black men and women have consistently higher rates of unemployment than people in the NVM group, no matter what their level of education. Women of Arab origin are also significantly more likely than their NVM counterparts to be unemployed.

Unemployment among members of visible minorities who have no certificate (less than a secondary diploma) is substantially lower than for people in the NVM group. The differences are narrower for people with secondary or trades qualifications.

Although members of visible minorities are more likely than NVM people to have a university degree (bachelor’s or above), the additional education has not resulted in comparable unemployment rates, with the exception of people of Filipino origin. South Asian men and Southeast Asian and Japanese women have unemployment rates nearly comparable to those of the NVM group.

Gender differences are greatest among those with trades and college diplomas and university degrees, particularly people of South Asian, Arab and West Asian origin.

For Indigenous people living off-reserve, with all levels of education except university degrees, unemployment is significantly higher than in the NVM group.

Income from employment

Figure 6 shows the median employment incomes of visible minority groups as percentages of the median employment income of the NVM group, by generation. The two “gender gap” columns show differences between the income numbers for men and for women as reported in the first four columns. Data from Atlantic Canada were not included because those provinces have only small numbers of second-generation members of visible minorities in the 25- to 34-year-old category.

For most visible minority groups, median employment salaries improve significantly for the second generation; Filipino men show only a small improvement. For Black men and men of Latin American and Southeast Asian origin, however, median employment incomes decrease. Black and West Asian Canadians have the lowest median employment incomes for both genders across both generations.

The “gender gap” columns show that, for all groups, women’s median employment incomes improve more than those of men in the second generation; workers of West Asian origin are the exception.

Figure 7 provides median employment incomes by gender and generation for 25- to 34-year-olds. The gap in these incomes between men and women is smaller — that is, women’s are a higher percentage of men’s — for visible minority workers than for NVM workers, notably so in the second generation. While earnings are higher for men than for women, for visible minority workers and NVM workers alike, the increase in the gender gap over generations largely reflects the overall societal shift in occupations and gender roles.

Figure 8 takes a closer look at the median employment incomes of members of the second generation in this age cohort, by province and gender. (Atlantic Canada is not included.)

In most provinces, second-generation Chinese Canadians have higher median employment incomes than NVM workers, and for Chinese women they are significantly higher. In most other visible minority groups, median employment incomes are within 10 percent of those of NVM people. South Asian, Filipino and Southeast Asian second-generation women in most provinces earn more than NVM women. However, Black men and Latin American men and women have significantly lower median employment incomes, as do people of West Asian origin in Ontario and British Columbia.

Although the concept of second generation does not apply to Indigenous people, their median employment incomes have been included to highlight the comparative success in economic integration of visible minorities and the significant challenges faced by Indigenous people. Earnings of Indigenous people are significantly lower in all provinces; the gap is smaller for Indigenous men in Quebec.

In figure 9, median employment incomes of second-generation 25- to 34-year-olds in six CMAs show the same overall patterns among visible minority groups and genders as the analysis by province. Women have higher median employment incomes than men, most notably in Toronto, while Black and Latin American men and women earn less in most cities compared with other visible minority groups and the NVM group.

The median employment incomes of second-generation Chinese Canadians are greater than the comparable figures for NVM workers in most cities; for women in this group, they are notably higher.

In most other visible minority groups, median employment incomes for the second generation are within 10 percent of the comparable numbers for NVM workers. Some exceptions are Arab women and West Asian men and women in Vancouver, Arab men in Calgary and Edmonton, and Korean men in Montreal and Edmonton.

Figure 10 looks at education as a factor in median employment income for Canadian-born members of visible minority groups. These are mainly second-generation 25- to 34-year-olds but the data may include small numbers of people in the third generation. (For Indigenous people, data are for all generations.)

Canadian-born visible minority women have higher median employment incomes, at virtually all levels of education and for all groups, compared with NVM women. In contrast, median employment incomes of Canadian-born visible minority men, across groups and levels of education, are significantly below those of NVM men. Also much lower are the incomes of Canadian-born Black people and those of Latin American and West Asian origin in this age group.

Indigenous women earn less than visible minority women; for Indigenous men, median employment incomes are comparable.

Concluding observations

People in the 25- to 34-year-old cohort are in the early stages of their careers and working lives. We can see important variations in their economic outcomes by looking at census data about their gender, generation and visible minority status.

  • Rates of participation in the labour force for men in visible minority groups are broadly comparable to those of men in the NVM group; for visible minority women, participation rates are significantly lower than their counterparts, likely reflecting child care responsibilities and choices.
  • Participation rates are stronger for Black, Filipino and Southeast Asian Canadians than for other visible minority groups.
  • Unemployment rates are higher overall for visible minority men and women than for those in the NVM group, but there is significant variation among groups. Unemployment is higher among Black, Arab and West Asian Canadians, for both men and women, and at all levels of education. The greatest differences in unemployment rates between visible minority groups and the NVM group are in Quebec.
  • Among first-generation members of all visible minority groups, median employment incomes are significantly lower than for the NVM group when data for both men and women are combined. But for most groups, second-generation women’s median employment income exceeds or is close to that of NVM women. Among second-generation men in most visible minority groups, earnings remain significantly lower than those of NVM men, resulting in a relative narrowing of the gender gap for visible minority women.
  • While visible minority women participate less in the workforce, for those who do work the gap between their incomes and those of their NVM counterparts is smaller than the comparable gap for men.
  • Across the provinces, economic outcomes for members of visible minorities are worse in Quebec, by most indicators.
  • Visible minority groups that are more successful economically are South Asian, Chinese, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Korean and Japanese Canadians. Black people and those of Latin American, Arab and West Asian origin have poorer economic outcomes.

Overall, economic outcomes for second-generation 25- to 34-year-old members of visible minorities approximate those of Canadians in the NVM group, indicating the relative success of Canada’s immigration, settlement, citizenship and multiculturalism policies and programs. These generally positive outcomes indicate that this cohort contributes to addressing the challenges of an aging population. However, not all visible minority groups share in these results. Some of these differences may reflect discrimination, bias and racism against Black people and those of Latin American, Arab and West Asian origin, but other factors should also be investigated.

Photo: New Canadians, including Zahra Aminmoghaddam, front right, from Iran, wave flags after taking the oath of citizenship during a special Canada Day ceremony in West Vancouver on Saturday, July 1, 2017. The Canadian Press, by Darryl Dyck.

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Andrew Griffith
Andrew Griffith is the author of “Because it’s 2015…” Implementing Diversity and Inclusion, Multiculturalism in Canada: Evidence and Anecdote and Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias: Resetting Citizenship and Multiculturalism and is a regular media commentator and blogger (Multiculturalism Meanderings). He is the former director general for Citizenship and Multiculturalism, has worked for a variety of government departments in Canada and abroad, and is a fellow of the Environics Institute.

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