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Recent immigrants and the employment crisis

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It is no secret that times of high unemployment and precarious work are especially tough for new and recent entrants to the job market, notably young workers and recent immigrants. The latter were especially hard hit in the recession and slow recovery of the 1990s, when new immigrants had great difficulty finding decent jobs and it took longer and longer for immigrant earnings to catch up with those of Canadian-born workers.

When there are many more suitable applicants for jobs than there are job vacancies, the tendency of employers to undervalue international credentials and international work experience is even more pronounced. Further, the great majority of recent immigrants belong to racialized groups, and racial discrimination is a bigger obstacle to hiring and promotion in tough economic times.

While we lack the detailed data which is (or was?) only available from the census, Statistics Canada labour force survey data suggest that the downturn since 2008 is also having a disproportionately negative impact on recent immigrants, particularly when it comes to the wage gap between recent immigrants and Canadian-born workers.

The table below shows some key labour market indicators for both 2008 and 2010 for recent adult immigrants (landed in Canada for less than 5 years, and aged 25 to 54), and for workers of the same age group born in Canada.

As shown, the jump in the unemployment rate for adult recent immigrants between 2008 and 2010 was from an already high 11.0 per cent to a very high 14.7 per cent. That is almost as high as the youth unemployment rate of 14.8 per cent in 2010. While the increase was to a very elevated level, it was proportionately about the same as the increase in the unemployment rate for the Canadian-born (both rates were up by about one third.) The fall in the employment rate of over 3 percentage points for adult recent immigrants (i.e. the percentage with jobs) was almost double the decline among the Canadian-born.

The greatest relative impact of the recession and modest recovery has been on wages. Between 2008 and 2010, average hourly earnings of recent immigrants rose by only 6 cents per hour, from $18.68 to $18.74 per hour, while average hourly wages of the Canadian-born increased by 5.6 per cent to $25.04 per hour. Likely recent immigrant workers who lost jobs during the recession were significantly more likely to be able to find only lower wage jobs.

The proportion of adult recent immigrant workers in lower-paid jobs earning less than $20 per hour increased from 64.8 per cent to 67.1 per cent between 2008 and 2010, while this proportion fell from 42.9 per cent to 37.9 per cent among the Canadian-born. (Wages for both years are not adjusted for inflation of about 2 per cent over the two years.)

The wage gap between core working age recent immigrants and the Canadian-born thus rose significantly, from $5.04 per hour in 2008, to $6.30 per hour in 2010.

In sum, the relative position of adult recent immigrant workers has been deteriorating significantly.

(The wage data for 2010 below were provided to the CLC by Statistics Canada as a special tabulation.)

Recent immigrants and the crisis

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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