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Labour data raises flags, more questions on racialized worker participation


This week, the Wellesley Institute published The Colour Coded Labour Market By The Numbers: A National Household Survey Analysis.

What the report sought to do was look at racialized labour market data in Ontario and compare it to previous work done using 2006 Census data, to see how the trends in the labour experience of racialized Ontarians have changed over time. 

The report sought to answer some critical questions: is the income gap for racialized workers closing, or is it continuing to widen? What happens when National Household Survey (NHS) data is used to compare trends to the former long-form Census data cancelled by the Conservative government?  

We know that racialized Ontarians face discrimination in the labour market. Recent and compelling evidence from a University of Toronto study tells this story.

The NHS data show that there are consistent differences in the employment experiences and incomes of racialized and non-racialized Ontarians. Racialized Ontarians had a higher unemployment rate than those who aren’t racialized: 10.5 percent as compared to 7.5 percent.

The data also show a 16.7 percent employment income earnings gap between racialized and non-racialized Ontarians. There’s more: 20 percent of racialized Ontarians were living in poverty compared to 11.6 percent of non-racialized Ontarians.

The NHS data also show that the gap between racialized and non-racialized workers shrunk compared to 2006. While this seems like a good thing, closer examination of employment incomes raises a number of concerns about the quality of the NHS data.

Data available from the longer-established Statistics Canada Survey of Labour and Income Dynamics (SLID) shows the income gap widening – rather than narrowing – between racialized and non-racialized Ontarians. NHS data is also inconsistent with research on the labour market experience of young workers in Ontario and immigrants over a similar period. There are also some unusual relationships within the NHS data between the incomes of full-time, full-year workers and those of all workers.

What this suggests is that the NHS data isn’t capturing an accurate story of racialized Canadians’ labour market experience. The gap between racialized and non-racialized Ontarians may not be shrinking – it may be growing. The problem is that we don’t know. And this is no small problem to have.

We need reliable data to understand and address the labour market discrimination faced by racialized Canadians. The NHS plays a crucial role, and only the NHS has a large enough sample to provide sufficient detail to understand a number of important questions: how do different racialized groups experience discrimination? What are the differences in experiences between first and second generation racialized Ontarians? How does the labour market experience differ for racialized and non-racialized immigrants?

This information is crucial for designing policy solutions that address barriers to full participation in the labour market for racialized Canadians.

There is a need for the issue of quality to be addressed in the next cycle of data collection, ideally through a return to the mandatory long-form Census.

For a further exploration of where the NHS falls short, download The Colour Coded Labour Market By The Numbers

Jo Snyder is Communications Director at the Wellseley Institute.