December 10, 2021

Weekly EconMinute—Unemployment rates for visible minorities

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about unemployment rates for visible minorities.

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By now, the disproportionate effects the pandemic had on women, low-wage workers, and racial minorities have been well documented. These groups, among a few others, experienced a widening of pre-existing inequalities in the workforce with the fallout of the pandemic. Today, we want to explore how the unemployment rates of visible minorities fared relative to their non-minority counterparts.

In July 2020, Statistics Canada started collecting data on visible minorities as part of their monthly labour force survey. Unfortunately, this means we cannot compare labour market data for visible minorities to a pre-pandemic baseline, but we can assess how things have changed over the past 16 months.  

Here’s what the data show:

  • Since July 2020, visible minority populations have continued to experience higher rates of unemployment than non-minority populations, though the extent of this difference has varied over time.
  • In July of 2020, on the heels of some of the most stringent public health restrictions, the difference between non-minority and visible minority unemployment rates was greatest. Non-minority populations had an unemployment rate of 9.3%, while visible minority populations had an unemployment rate of 16.3%—a 7-point difference.
  • One reason for this difference is that visible minorities are over-represented in industries hard hit by the pandemic (e.g., food and accommodations services) and, thus, more vulnerable to employment loss.
  • Since then, the unemployment rate gap has trended downward with a brief increase in the rate difference in May 2021 following the reintroduction of tighter public health restrictions. Here we saw modest increases in visible minority unemployment rates as non-essential businesses were closed or limited, while the non-minority unemployment rates continued to decrease.
  • By November 2021, the unemployment rate difference has narrowed by more than half compared to 16 months ago, likely due to the re-opening of front-line service industries. Unemployment rates dropped to 4.7% for non-minority populations and 7.4% for visible minority populations, resulting in a much lower 2.7-point difference.
  • Of the visible minority populations, Filipino Canadians fared the best, with unemployment rates similar to and sometimes lower than the non-minority population. This may be because Filipino Canadians are overrepresented in essential services such as manufacturing, health care, and social assistance, where COVID-related job losses would have been less prevalent.
  • Arab Canadians usually had the highest unemployment rate compared to other visible minority populations. While the reason for this is not totally clear, it may be because Arab Canadians face distinct discrimination challenges or because more of the Arab population is made up of immigrants than most other visible minority populations, which presents additional barriers to employment.

As economic recovery continues, visible minorities are reclaiming jobs that fell to the wayside during the height of the pandemic. And while we may not know whether the gap between visible minority and non-minority unemployment rates is back to pre-pandemic levels, we should strive for an economic recovery that delivers prosperity for all–and closes that gap for good.

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