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February is Black history month: an invitation to recognize, celebrate and honour the profound contributions that Black workers have made to the building of Canada’s economy, politics and labour movements.
This month we’re sharing a three-part series on the LMIC blog in which we outline some of the history of Black labour in Canada, speak to Black youth about their perceptions of the labour market opportunities available to them, and review the current labour market realities for Black people in Canada based on available data.
Part 3: What can the data tell us about Black Canadians and the labour market?
Previously, we spoke to young Black Canadians about their perspectives on the kinds of opportunities they have access to as a result of the efforts of previous generations of Black people in Canada.
Despite the contributions of previous generations, there are still significant differences in the employment and earnings of Black people relative to the rest of the Canadian adult population.
First, some background on current-day Black Canadians as a population group:
Here’s what the 2016 Census tells us:
The employment rate of Black people of all ages is lower than in the rest of the population.
Black Canadians experience a substantial earnings gap.
As Block & Galabuzi (2011), Ng & Gagnon (2020) and others note, Canada has a colour-coded labour market. Black Canadians are over-represented in precarious, temporary and low-paying employment and are underrepresented in high-paying managerial positions.
The youth we interviewed reflected this in their perceptions of opportunities available to them.
Noting that Black women in Canada’s workforce are concentrated in healthcare and social assistance sectors, Narissa, a young nurse from Montreal, Québec, says:
I am proud to be carrying on the tradition of being a Black nurse in Canada, but the disproportionate role Black women play in health care as nurses, as healthcare aids and personal support workers is a reflection of our society overall – of the way we see women in general, and Black women specifically. It also is a reflection of the fact that we cannot easily access higher positions. Like, Black women aren’t overrepresented as doctors, or surgeons, or even nurse practitioners. As a Black woman there are jobs you just know you won’t get – it does not matter how qualified you are.
We saw the truth clear as day during COVID: Black folks were more affected by COVID because we are funneled into all the “essential” jobs: the retail jobs, food service and public transit jobs – and these are lower paying jobs and are more likely to not be able to take off sick time.
The youth we spoke to also pointed to discrimination in the labour market in the form of racially biased hiring decisions, employer hostility, negative treatment and racial stereotyping as responsible for reinforcing the barriers to well-paying jobs and driving the significant income gap between Black and non-racialized Canadians.
Recent research reveals that one in two Black employees in Canada experienced race-based discrimination in the workplace and 96% of Black Canadians report racism to be a problem at work. 78% of Black Canadians report that workplace racism is a serious or very serious issue (in comparison, the majority (56%) of white participants saw racism in the workplace as a small problem or not a problem at all).
According to Johnathan, a 23-year-old from Vancouver, British Columbia:
I think most Black people in Canada just assume that they are going to experience some form of discrimination at work because it happens all the time: jokes, assumptions and stereotypes. If it hasn’t happened to you, you know someone it has happened to.
Austin, a 21-year-old from Toronto, Ontario who currently works as a line cook but hopes to find work in advertising and digital design, says:
I recently graduated from college and have been looking everywhere for a job in my field. Even though there are lots of openings I am having a lot of difficulty finding a job. I send out tons of resumes and, because I have a white-sounding name, I get lots of calls and lots of interviews but as soon as I show up and they see me, the whole vibe is off – like they weren’t expecting me to be Black. And even though I feel like I do well in the interviews, I never hear back.
Similarly, Tiricia recounts some of her experiences with discrimination in the workplace:
From discrimination over Black names, being talked down to, or having people just assume you aren’t very smart, I feel that racial discrimination in the workplace is a very common experience.
In a similar vein, Aalyeah, a 21-year-old nursing student in Toronto, Ontario, shares:
They ask you questions about your hair. They are surprised when you are intelligent and articulate or hardworking. Or, alternatively, you are just left out of everything: no one really wants to speak to you, they make plans with each other, and you are completely excluded.
These lived labour market experiences confirm what countless studies across the country have determined: across Canada, significant barriers remain entrenched along racial lines.
Block, S., & Galabuzi, G. E. (2011). Canada’s colour coded labour market. Canadian centre for policy alternatives, 1-20.
Ng, E. S., & Gagnon, S. (2020). Employment gaps and underemployment for racialized groups and immigrants in Canada: current findings and future directions. Toronto: Public Policy Forum.
Public Health Agency of Canada (2021). CHPO Sunday Edition: The Impact of COVID-19 on Racialized Communities. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/news/2021/02/cpho-sunday-edition-the-impact-of-covid-19-on-racialized-communities.html. Retrieved on January 15, 2023.
Zou, C., Borova, B., Oladapo K. O., Parkin, A. (2022). Experiences of Discrimination at Work. Future Skills Centre.
Dr. Suzanne Spiteri is a sociologist with several years of experience in both qualitative and mixed-methods data analysis. She leads labour-related projects that explore labour market tightness and the labour market outcomes of under-represented groups.