How the economic landscape is tilted against black Canadians

Deeper look at racialized census data on income and wealth exposes sobering snapshot of reality

How the economic landscape is tilted against black Canadians

In December last year, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) released a report revealing racial rifts in Canada’s economic terrain. Today, as the Black Lives Matter movement reaches fever pitch, it’s worth revisiting the analysis as it relates to black Canadians – and the figures are damning.

Hustling harder, but earning less
Drawing from 2016 census data from Statistics Canada, CCPA analysts behind the report titled Canada’s Colour Coded Income Inequality showed that in 2016, the unemployment rate among black Canadians stood at 12.5%, compared to just 7.3% among non-racialized Canadians.

Looking through a gender-focused lens reveals broadly the same trend: black Canadian men faced a higher unemployment rate (12.8%) than non-racialized Canadian men (7.3%), as did black Canadian women (12.2%) compared to non-racialized Canadian women (6.4%).

Black Canadians appeared to be proportionally more active in the labour force. The 2016 data showed their participation rate for men and women within that cohort stood at 72.2% and 66.1%, respectively, in contrast to 69.1% and 60.8% for the non-racialized male and female populations.

However, reported employment income figures showed black Canadian men earned just $37,817 on average in 2015, compared to $56,920 for the average Canadian man who’s not a visible minority. And though not as gaping, the income difference between black Canadian women ($31,900) and their non-racialized counterparts ($38,247) was also evident.

Disparities across generations
One angle the report explored relates to the immigrant experience. According to one widely held narrative, all new immigrants will naturally encounter challenges participating in the labour market when they first arrive, and those difficulties will subside as time passes.

But a look at the numbers torpedoes that theory. When determining the gap in black Canadians’ earnings compared to non-racialized Canadians, the researchers found a wide variation in average employment income ratios among those belonging to racialized groups.

In 2015, the average employment income ratio for first-generation black Canadians stood at 0.68 – that is, they earned an average of 68 cents for every dollar earned by their non-racialized immigrant counterparts. That was below the average employment income ratio for most other first-generation racial minority groups, including Filipino (0.70), South Asian (0.76), and Chinese (0.81).

The disparity seemed to grow worse with time. The employment income ratio for second-generation black Canadians was 0.69, in contrast to 0.81 for Filipino, 0.94 for South Asian, and 1.03 for Chinese. Third-generation black Canadians were better off than their predecessors with an average employment income ratio of 0.74, but they still lagged their Filipino (0.77), South Asian (0.96), and Chinese (1.03) contemporaries.

A racist investing market?
The researchers also found an apparent racialized gap in terms of participation in investment markets. While it showed no data focused on Canada’s black sub-population, the report revealed that in 2015, 11.9% of non-racialized Canadians reported capital gains, compared to just 8.3% of those in racialized groups.

In a similar vein, 30.8% of non-racialized Canadians reported getting investment income that year, compared to 25.1% of racialized Canadians. Furthermore, the survey found racialized Canadian investors earned an average of $10,828 in investment income, compared to $11,428 for non-racialized Canadian investors.

The upshot of all this is that as of 2015, 67% of black people in Canada fell into the bottom half of the national distribution of economic family incomes, compared to just 47% of non-racialized Canadians.

Of course, that’s according to the most recent economic snapshot of Canada taken in 2016. Whether things can improve by the time Statistics Canada conducts its next census of the population – it’s scheduled in 2021, but that was set before the COVID-19 pandemic hit – is a question and a challenge that must be answered.


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