Canadian-born visible minorities: A blind spot in labour market integration policies

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Whether born in Canada or abroad, members of visible minorities are at a disadvantage in the job market, according to a CIRANO report by Professor Brahim Boudarbat.

In Quebec and across Canada, visible minorities struggle to enter the job market, whether they were born in Canada or abroad. In fact, being a member of a visible minority is a greater obstacle to economic integration than being an immigrant.

That is the main conclusion of a report prepared for the CIRANO research centre by Professor Brahim Boudarbat of the School of Industrial Relations at Université de Montréal, released in December 2023.

Based on data from the 2021 Canadian census, the report notes that people identified as visible minorities account for 16.1 per cent of Quebec’s population and 26.5 per cent of Canada’s population.

Visible minorities make up 22.2 per cent of young people under 25 in Quebec, or nearly one in four.

Labour force participation and unemployment

Like immigrants, members of visible minorities aged 15 and over have a higher labour force participation rate (68 per cent) than non-minorities (62 per cent) in Quebec. However, the situation is different for the youngest age bracket: in the 15-24 age group, visible minorities have a 57 per cent participation rate compared with 68 per cent for non-minorities.

Visible minorities are also at a disadvantage when it comes to unemployment; in 2021, they had an 11.1 per cent unemployment rate, 4.2 percentage points higher than non-minorities (or 1.6 times higher).

"Surprisingly, Canadian-born visible minorities have the highest unemployment rates, at 12 per cent in Quebec and 15 per cent in Canada, followed by visible-minority immigrants at 10.8 per cent in Quebec and 12 per cent in Canada," Boudarbat commented.

While this gap was found in all’age groups, it was widest among young people. In Quebec, members of visible minorities aged 15 to 25 who were born in Canada had an unemployment rate of 17.7 per cent, compared with 10.4 per cent for other Canadian-born youth.

Lower wages and overqualification

In 2020, employed members of visible minorities in Quebec earned, on average, 17 per cent less than other workers. The difference was 29 per cent for people born in Canada and 23 per cent for immigrants.

Among people with a university degree (bachelor’s or higher), members of visible minorities were more likely to have jobs for which they were overqualified: 20 per cent of visible-minority university graduates held jobs requiring a high school diploma or less, compared with 8.6 per cent of others.

The picture is the same whether a person was born and educated in Canada or abroad: members of visible minorities are 1.5 times more likely than other university graduates to be overqualified for their jobs.

Start with people who are already here

The plight of visible minorities, particularly young people and women, is a glaring case of significant under-utilization of skills and resources, according to Boudarbat.

Credit: Getty

The plight of visible minorities, particularly young people and women, is "a glaring case of significant under-utilization of skills and resources," said Boudarbat.

At a time when Quebec and Canada are trying to recruit more workers abroad to deal with labour shortages, "logic would dictate that we first realize the full potential of the working-age population that is already here," he argued, condemning the "waste of resources."

"The idea that immigration brings long-term benefits because the children of immigrants integrate well economically into Quebec and Canada is questionable in the case of visible minorities," he said.

Review integration policies and promote social cohesion

According to Statistics Canada, immigrants and their descendants will make up 50 per cent of Canada’s population by 2041.

Boudarbat believes it is important for policymakers to examine the factors that disadvantage visible minorities and then review integration policies to address them as a priority.

"It’s not so much a question of strengthening affirmative action policies but, most importantly, of removing the barriers to the economic integration of young people, the barriers that prevent them from contributing to the development of their society," Boudarbat suggested. "We need to address the risks of socio-economic exclusion of these young people and the potential consequences for social cohesion."

"The schools and institutions of higher education, as well as employer and human resources organizations, have 10 to 15 years to prepare themselves to better support job providers in the new employment environment of the future," he said. "This is true for Quebec and even more for Canada as a whole, where visible minorities represent a larger proportion of the population.