As racial tensions rise in Canada over the police-involved death of Regis Korchinski-Paquet in Toronto and Chantel Moore and Rodney Levi in New Brunswick, protests are erupting nationwide over the alleged systemic racism woven into the fabric of Canadian society. The best way to understand such a complex topic is to evaluate specific arguments, statistics, reports and studies.
The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) authored the most recent, comprehensive report, entitled “Canada’s Colour Coded Income Inequality,” which makes the case for systemic racism in Canada, due to economic disparities between the “racialized population” (the visible minority population, excluding Indigenous peoples) and the “non-racialized population” (white). The authors find large disparities on a variety of economic measures, such as employment rates, average employment income and unemployment rates. However, their framework and interpretation of data are casuistical and lazy.
The authors first correctly state that there are 7.7 million “racialized” individuals in Canada, representing 22% of the population (up from 16% a decade earlier). They compare their two study groups across various measures, finding that the “non-racialized population” significantly outperforms the “racialized population.” For example, racialized men earned 78 cents for every dollar that non-racialized men earned. Curiously, for women, the gap is narrower: racialized women earned 87 cents for every dollar that non-racialized women earned. Unemployment also favours the non-racialized: the total unemployment rate of the racialized population is 9.2%, while the unemployment rate of the non-racialized population is 7.3%. In other measures, disparities also exist. The racialized population comprises 60% of the bottom half of family income distribution, compared to 47% for the non-racialized population.
Such statistics can, however, appear much more significant than they are because of morally neutral factors. Comparing two groups for external factors, such as systemic racism, is statistically very challenging because a multitude of differences will exist between any two groups and these differences can skew outcomes. Variables that can differ between groups and shape differential outcomes include family structure, median age, educational attainment, culture and ethnicity. However, the authors of this report take a radically broad-based approach: comparing the “non-racialized population”—whites from various backgrounds such as French, American, Russian, Canadian etc.—with the “racialized population,” which includes Chinese, South Asian, black, Filipino, Latin American, Arab, Southeast Asian, West Asian, Korean, Japanese, “visible minority n.i.e.” and “multiple visible minorities.” When dealing with such diverse, variegated groups—especially the racialized group—one must recognize differences among groups and investigate their causal effects on reported disparities.
Median age is one factor that is significant but often goes unrecognized—as it does in the CCPA’s report. For example, in the United States, income differences between middle-aged people and young adults are larger than differences between blacks and whites. Groups with disproportionate numbers of younger workers earn less income and make up a lower percentage of those in high-skilled jobs overall, even if every other factor is equal, including language skills, educational attainment, culture etc. (factors that can never be equal among different groups, however). In Canada, the racialized population had a median age of 33.9 in 2016, compared with 43.3 for those in the category “not a visible minority” (white). With a difference in median age of almost an entire decade, there cannot be equal numbers of each population involved in activities that require stamina and youthful strength, such as professional sports, or in occupations that require long years of experience and education, such as being a CEO or a physician. Income tends to be higher in higher age cohorts and employment tends to be lower in lower age groups.
First and second generation Chinese Canadians have higher average employment incomes than those of any other minority group of the same generation and they also have the highest median age (38.4) of any minority group. Chinese men and women have the highest observed percentage of workers aged 25 to 44 in high-skill occupations of any second generation group and the percentage is higher than that of whites of third (or more) generations. By contrast, black Canadians consistently lag behind other minority groups in measures such as employment income and unemployment rates. Blacks also have the lowest median age of any racial group (29.6). However, blacks are overrepresented in fields where youth is an advantage, such as professional sports. For example, black males comprise more than 35% of the Canadian national soccer team but only 3.5% of Canada’s population. Black females are also over-represented among professional soccer players, comprising 21% of the Canadian team. Of course, it’s difficult to draw a direct connection between median age and economic success since, for example, South Asians have a median age that is more than two years younger than that of Latin Americans, yet South Asians have significantly higher average employment income than Latin Americans. Differences in groups are so convoluted that it’s hard to explain them in terms of even multiple causal factors. Careful and rigorous analysis must be used to understand disparate outcomes.
Language is another important factor, which significantly differs among the racialized and non-racialized population of Canada. The CCPA did not acknowledge language in their analysis. Instead, they compare racialized and non-racialized immigrants in Canada and find a 71 cents on the dollar gap between racialized and non-racialized immigrant men and a 79 cents on the dollar gap between racialized and non-racialized immigrant women. Moreover, the CCPA compared the average employment income of ethnic groups within Canada’s racialized immigrant category to non-racialized immigrants as a whole (by generation), and found that every visible minority group in the first generation under-performed by comparison with first-generation white immigrants. The narrowest gap was found in the Chinese group: an 81 cents on the dollar gap between first generation Chinese immigrants and non-racialized immigrants of the same generation. Even in the “third generation or more” category, only a handful of visible minority groups (Chinese, Arab, Korean, Japanese) earned the same as or more than non-racialized immigrants while, overall, there is still a 93 cents on the dollar gap between racialized and non-racialized immigrants of the third generation or more. The CCPA interpret this data as evidence of a “discrimination,” not “common to all immigrants,” but only experienced by immigrants of colour. However, emphasizing colour is missing the point. Language is a much stronger indicator of economic success than race—at least in Canada. Economic studies have consistently shown that the most successful immigrants to Canada are those who are fluent in English or French. As University of British Columbia economist David Green, who has written papers for the CCPA in the past, states, “People from source countries where English or French is not the main language, or with different educational institutions, do less well in the Canadian economy … compared to immigrants from Northern Europe or the US.” This statement is congruent with the data: Canada’s racialized immigrants, who comprise Canada’s largest group of immigrants by far, come primarily from countries such as China and the Philippines, where English is not an official language.
Unsurprisingly, the vast majority of non-racialized immigrants to Canada come from three English- and French-speaking countries: the US, UK and France (in that order). It is disingenuous to compare a group for whom English or French is a first language with a group whose members speak different mother tongues and who are not accustomed to western culture. Increasing numbers of immigrants to Canada speak neither English nor French: 10.3% of immigrants to Canada from 2011 to 2016 spoke neither French nor English, compared with 6.5% between 2001 and 2010. Moreover, a report by Social Planning Toronto, found that more than 132,700 people living in Toronto, the city with the highest number of immigrants, who make up 4.9% of the city’s population, are not able to speak either English or French. An Immigration Canada report has shown that newcomers who cannot speak English or French make lower than average incomes and often reside in ethnic enclaves.
Controlling for the generationality of immigrants eliminates not only the language barrier but the well-documented foreign credential recognition barrier racialized immigrants face: a barrier much less prominent for non-racialized immigrants because the majority of those immigrants are Americans, who can transfer their skills much more easily. Researchers Wen-Hao Chen and Feng Hou controlled for generationality in their 2019 report “Intergenerational Education Mobility and Labour Market Outcomes: Variation Among the Second Generation of Immigrants in Canada.” Their findings are diametrically opposed to those of the CCPA. According to the study, Chinese, South Asian, Korean and Japanese men earned substantially more (5–14%) than third-plus generation white men: “About 40 per cent or more of second-generation Chinese, South Asians and West Asians or Arabs worked in high-skill occupations, compared with 20 percent of men and 31 per cent of women among third-plus generation whites.”
The earnings patterns for second generation minority women were more promising. Chinese and Korean women earned 30% more than white women of the third-plus generation. More than 35% of second-generation women of Chinese, South Asian, Filipino, West Asian/Arab, Korean, Japanese and Southeast Asian origin work in high-skilled occupations, compared to just 31% of third-plus generation white women. When the authors controlled for several key factors, such as age, marital status, home language, educational level and school attendance, using regression models, the results were even more complex. Men in every visible minority group earned significantly less than third-plus generation white men. However, multiple groups of minority women, such as South Asian, Korean and Chinese women, earned more than third-plus generation whites. These results further complicate and counter notions of labour market discrimination against minorities, women and the intersectional group of minority women.
Age, language and foreign credential recognition are only a few of the factors that may account for disparities between racial groups. Seldom does a single (or even multiple) explanatory variable wholly account for a convoluted phenomenon. Complex outcomes are explained by a confluence of factors, such as culture, family structure, educational attainment and even adaptability to new environments. For example, Japanese Canadians are more likely to intermarry than any other minority group and the Japanese also consistently outperform many other ethnic groups. Instead of rigorously exploring, or at least acknowledging, such important factors, the CCPA authors conclude that the disparate outcomes they found are clear-cut evidence of “systemic racism” and “labour market discrimination,” which need to be better understood so that we can form “anti-racism policies.” However, the authors do not provide evidence to support either of their two weighty claims of “systemic racism” and “labour market discrimination.” Of course, discrimination cannot be excluded as a causal factor in the reported disparities. Some studies in Canada have found legitimate discrimination against minorities in the labour market. But trying to explain disparities purely as the result of “systemic racism” is intellectually lazy and fallacious. It assumes there would be (roughly or completely) equal outcomes between racial groups in the absence of some amorphously defined “institutionalized racism”—an objective which is scientifically unachievable, as prominent Canadian intellectuals such as Gad Saad have argued. The emphasis on colour in the title of the CCPA’s report oversimplifies things and ignores morally neutral factors, such as language and age. But, as economist Thomas Sowell points out, these “morally neutral factors seem to attract far less attention than other causal factors which stir moral outrage.” Morally salient factors, such as racism and discrimination, are much more likely to attract attention than median age differences or foreign credential recognition.
Photo by sebastiaan stam