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Racial discrimination and the economic downturn


The Census  replaced by the National Household Survey in 2011  is our key source of information for “visible minority” persons, best known as racialized persons (since race is a social rather than biological concept) and since “minorities” make up close to the majority of the population in the large urban centres of Toronto, Montreal,  and Vancouver.


In 2011, one in five (19.1%) of all Canadians belonged to visible minority groups, up from one in six (16.2%) in 2006. Almost one quarter of young people age 20 to 24 belong to a visible minority group.


Numerous studies have shown that visible minority groups, especially Blacks and South Asians, experience racial discrimination in the job market, and are more likely to be unemployed or employed in precarious jobs, and are more likely to have lower earnings than comparable white workers.

While members of visible minority groups are more likely to be recent immigrants than other Canadians, a high and rising proportion of such groups were born in Canada or came here as young children. Forty percent of racialized youth age 20-24 were born in Canada.

Statistics Canada have just released data on employment and unemployment in 2011 by racial status.

While there are legitimate concerns regarding the quality of data from the National Household Survey of 2011 which replaced the 2006 Census, these are the only data we have since the Labour Force Survey does not ask questions regarding racial (or Aboriginal) status.

2011 was a year of partial recovery from the Great Recession of 2008-09, and the overall unemployment rate averaged 7.8%.

The unemployment rate in 2011 was 9.9% for visible minority workers compared to 7.3% for white workers, a difference of 2.6 percentage points.

The difference in unemployment rates between visible minorities and white workers was significantly greater for women (10.6% vs 6.7%) than for men (9.3% vs 7.8%.)

The unemployment rate in 2011 was especially high for Arab workers (14.2%), Black workers (12.9%) and South Asian workers (10.2%) and above average for Chinese workers (8.3%.)

A high level of education did not narrow the unemployment rate gap between visible minority and white workers. In fact the gap ( 7.9% vs 4.1%) was greater for workers with a university degree.

Unemployment rates in 2011 were very high and much higher for visible minority youth than for white youth  26.7% compared to 17.7% for teens, and 18.6% compared to 14.1% for young adults aged 20 to 24.

Strikingly, there was a big difference in unemployment rates in 2011 between visible minority workers who were born (and almost certainly educated) in Canada and white non-immigrants  11.8% compared to 7.4%.

The gap was slightly smaller, but still significant, for young visible minority workers aged 20 to 24 who were born and educated in Canada and white workers in the same age group who were also born and educated in Canada  17.2% compared to 14.1%.

This large racial difference in unemployment rates for non-immigrants cannot be explained away with reference to the under-valuation of foreign credentials and work experience which affects immigrants. It may be due to overt discrimination in hiring and layoff decisions made by employers, or to the fact that visible minority workers tend to be employed in more precarious jobs.

A first look at the data certainly suggests that racial status has played a significant role in determining who has suffered most from the impacts of the Great Recession.

Photo: Scott Lowe. Used under a Creative Commons BY-NC 2.0 licence.