Douglas Todd: ‘Astonishing’ findings on Canadian ethnic groups’ earnings and education

While not astonishing for those of us who look at this data regularly (including public service employment equity data), nevertheless the differences are striking. Mikal Skuterud’s points on the need for nuance and understanding the life choices people make (and the circumstances that influence them) are important to keep in mind:

The latest Statistics Canada research on ethnic groups’ earnings and educational achievements reveals clues on where to look, and not look, for potential discrimination in the workplace.

Fortunately, the new data doesn’t group visible minorities into one monolithic clump — since the amount of money earned by each ethnic cohort is surprisingly different, with some groups flourishing and others not.

People of South Korean, Chinese and South Asian extraction tend to be the top earners in Canada, broadly speaking. Latin-American and Black people are often among the lowest. Whites are mostly in the middle of the pack in terms of wages, while they are in the lower echelons in regard to university education.

Economist Frances Woolley of Carleton University says such details are crucial. Visible minorities are one of four groups covered by the federal Employment Equity Act (as are women, people with disabilities, and Indigenous Canadians). But rather than assume all visible minorities are susceptible to unfairness, she says it is meaningful to focus on ethnic groups that are actually behind.

The latest StatsCan report, the first of its kind in a decade, measured the weekly incomes of Canadian-born people ages 25 to 44 (which encompasses the millennial generation) in 2016, a census year, based on 12 visible-minority categories.

The study by Theresa Qui and Grant Schellenberg illustrates the setting for Canada’s Anti-Racism Strategy, which is committed to “removing barriers and promoting a country where every person is able to fully participate and have an equal opportunity to proceed.”

Using white Canadians as a majority baseline, the report pinpoints how some ethnic groups are doing much better than others in earnings and education, as well as striking differences between men and women, and how people of colour overwhelmingly live in cities.

Mikal Skuterud, an economist at the University of Waterloo, said in an interview, “Descriptive studies like this are like paintings — different people will see different things in the numbers. But the reality is that what lies behind the earnings differences reported is nuanced, complex, and largely unknown.”

Workplace and educational outcomes are often not determined by racist bosses or discriminatory educators, suggested Skuterud. They are likely more often determined by complex life decisions that people make, and transparent data is needed to get to the bottom of things, he said. This report provides a hard look at the ethnic groups that appear to be moving up the ladder and those which aren’t.

Asian-Canadians among Canada’s top earners

Most Canadian visible-minority women earn more than white females, who averaged $1,120 a week.

Korean-Canadian women earned $1,450 a week on average; Chinese women $1,440; South Asian women $1,330; Japanese $1,320; Filipino $1,260; and Arab and Iranian $1,120. Meanwhile, Black women earned less, at $1,080, while Latin-American women made $1,000 a week.

Korean, Japanese and South Asian men earned slightly more than white males, who took in $1,530. Chinese-Canadian men earned about the same. Filipino and South-East Asian men earned about 15 per cent less than white males, while Latin-American and Black males earned about 20 per cent lower.

While some wage gaps shrink when variables such as age, place of residence and educational levels are taken into account, others remained significant, Schellenberg said.

The study by Qui and Schellenberg did not look at Indigenous people or immigrants, the latter being a larger visible-minority group than those born in Canada. While people who grew up in Canada are readily comparable, Schellenberg said, immigrants are often held back in the labour market by specific factors: a shortfall of Canadian work experience, lack of fluency in English or French, and foreign work credentials not being recognized.

Even though the Statistics Canada report doesn’t suggest where discrimination might be occurring in Canada, both Schellenberg and Skuterud said the data does appear to raise at least one red flag: Black males fell further behind others in relative earnings in the period between 2006 and 2016.

‘Astonishing’ differences in educational levels by ethnicity

People of colour born in Canada are far more likely than white people to have university degrees.

More than 60 per cent of Chinese and Korean men boasted a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to just 24 per cent of white males, a gulf that Skuterud referred to as “astonishing”.

In addition, more than 40 per cent of South Asian, Arab, West Asian and Japanese men had university degrees. The only ethnic groups less likely to have degrees than white males were Black males (20 per cent) and Latin-American males (17 per cent).

Even though many more white women than white men have university degrees (38 per cent), they still lag behind almost every other ethnic group.

“More than 70 per cent of Korean and Chinese women and around 60 per cent of Japanese and South Asian women had a university degree, compared with 38 per cent of white women,” said the report. They are basically tied with Black women on higher education, and slightly ahead of Latin-American females.

Because of the years many visible minorities spend in college and university compared to white people who move directly into the workforce, Qui and Schellenberg suggest the wages of people of colour, who are on average younger and in more high-skilled jobs, will show up comparatively higher in the 2021 census.

Ethnic segregation is forming along urban-rural lines

People of colour and whites are making remarkably different choices about big cities and small towns.

Sixty per cent of all people of colour in Canada live in just three cities — Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. That compares to only 27 per cent of white people.

Put another way, the report said, “Only about one in 20 (visible-minority members) live in smaller cities, towns and rural areas, compared with about one in three white people.”

Indeed, the report says one reason many people of colour earn more than white people is they live in metropolises, where wages tend to be elevated. The authors also found white people were more likely to be married, have children, and not be living with their parents.

Despite the unprecedented amount of North American, especially U.S., research that has gone into whether employers discriminate based on race or ethnicity, Skuterud said, “It’s almost a fundamentally unidentifiable problem.”

Rather than automatically believing gaps in earnings and education are rooted in “injustice or unfairness,” Skuterud said it is also important to simply remember, “People make different choices.”

Source: Douglas Todd: ‘Astonishing’ findings on Canadian ethnic groups’ earnings and education

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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