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Double Penalty: Being a Woman and a Visible Minority

For the first time, Canada’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) began asking respondents in July 2020 to identify if they fall into one of several designated visible minority groups, including Arab, Black, Chinese, Filipino, Latin American, Southeast Asian and South Asian. Prior to this update, the only source for reliable labour market information (LMI) on visible minorities was the census, and the most recent is the 2016 Census.

As a visible minority, I was excited by this news, as the change would finally provide more timely LMI on this group. However, the publicly available data has proved to be limited (largely due to sample size) at the national and provincial levels—and completely unavailable at the sub-provincial level. Still, even with these limitations, the changes to the Labour Force Survey offer new and important insights about the labour market outcomes of visible minorities.

Based on Census 2016, visible minorities had higher rates of unemployment than white people (neither visible minority, nor aboriginal). Conversely, visible minorities were found to have slightly higher rates of employment, in part because they have higher levels of education and their age profile skews much younger than white people.

The new LFS data show that not much has changed since 2016. Although the overall employment rate for all visible minority groups is slightly lower than that for white people (68% versus 69%), their unemployment rate has been consistently elevated—now at 9% compared with 7% for white people, similar to the pre-pandemic findings in 2016 (9% and 7% respectively).

Arab women reported the lowest employment rate and highest unemployment rate

As of March 2021, the employment rate for visible minority groups was slightly lower than that of white people at 68% and 69% respectively. The gap is larger among women. Female visible minorities have a lower rate of employment, at 63% compared with 66% for female white women. Arab women have the lowest rate of employment, at 46%, while Filipino women have the highest rate, at 79%. Male visible minorities, however, have a slightly higher rate of employment than white men, at 72% and 71% respectively, with South Asian men having the highest employment rate, at 76%.

Furthermore, the unemployment rate for visible minority groups was higher than for white people, at 9% and 8%, respectively. This gap is again larger among women. Visible minority women, on average, have an unemployment rate of 10%, versus 6% for white women. Latin American, South Asian and Arab women have the highest unemployment rate, at about 13%, while Filipino women have the lowest unemployment rate, at 2%. Among men, South Asian men have the lowest unemployment rate, at 7%, while Arab men have the highest rate, at 12%.

Table 1: Unemployment and employment rates among visible minority groups in March 2021

Visible minority ​group Unemployment rate ​(%) Employment rate​ (%)
Total Men Women Total Men Women
White1 8 9 6 69 71 66
Visible minority2 9 9 10 68 72 63
Arab​ 12 12 13 60 71 46
Black​ 11 11 11 69 71 67
Chinese​ 10 10 10 64 68 61
Filipino​ 5 8 2 77 74 79
Latin American​ 12 11 13 65 70 60
South Asian​ 10 7 13 68 76 60
Southeast Asian​ 10 8 11 63 70 57

Source: LMIC; Statistics Canada
1 not Indigenous or visible minority
2 population groups with a large enough sample size​

The way forward

The inclusion of visible minority information in the Labour Force Survey helps reduce a key LMI gap in timely labour market data on racialized groups. The newly available data validates existing research that visible minority women are double penalized in the labour market (i.e., for being women and visible minorities). These early findings from the LFS also reinforce the need for more in-depth research on the barriers faced by certain racialized groups, in particular to understand, for example, why the rate of employment for Arab women is much lower than for other groups.

To truly understand how COVID-19 has affected visible minorities, more local, granular labour market information is needed, particularly for the sectors and occupations in which many visible minorities work. And while there are some challenges with sample size, LMIC will continue to analyze the prevailing visible minority data as they become available. Stay tuned for more insights on this topic from LMIC in the coming months.


Bolanle Alake-Apata is an Economist with LMIC. Her work currently focuses on conducting research on labour market information for recent immigrants and students. 

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