Hot! Employment equity policy: one size doesn’t fit all

TheGlobeandMail.com – RoB/economy/economy-lab
Posted on Monday, March 7, 2011.   Frances Woolley

Members of visible minorities earn less than other Canadians. As The Globe and Mail recently reported, all else being equal, a Canadian-born visible minority woman earned 3 per cent less than her non-visible minority counterpart. For men, the visible minority earnings penalty was 18 per cent.

These numbers are taken from an article written by Professor Krishna Pendakur and Professor Ravi Pendakur. Their full paper provides further, more detailed, breakdowns of earnings by ethnic group. Canadian-born Chinese and “other Asian” women earn 6 per cent more than women of British descent, all else being equal. South Asian women earn about the same as comparable British-Canadian women, while Canadian-born women describing themselves as Black and African earn about 20 per cent less.

Greek women are not officially part of a visible minority, but they earn less than many women who are, with a 7 per cent wage penalty relative to those reporting British origins.

For men, Pendakur and Pendakur found a larger visible minority disadvantage. All else being equal, Canadian-born Chinese men earn 8 per cent less than British-origin men, South Asian men 19 per cent less and self-described Blacks 40 per cent less.

Canadian-born Greek men earn about the same as a typical member of a visible minority, even though they are not counted as such — 18 per cent less than similarly qualified men of British origin. (These comparisons are for the Canadian-born only, not immigrants).

Members of visible minorities are defined by Statistics Canada as “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour.”

But no living person’s skin tone matches the “ultra white” shade in a paint colour fan deck. Deciding whether paint is off-white or beige is a judgment call. So is determining which ethnic groups are visible minorities. Statistics Canada considers the following ethnic groups to be visible minorities: Chinese, South Asian, Black, Arab, West Asian, Filipino, Southeast Asian, Latin American, Japanese and Korean.

Greeks aren’t on the visible minority list, even though, according to Pendakur and Pendakur’s research, they struggle more in the labour market than do Chinese Canadians, and experience challenges similar to those faced by South Asian Canadians.

Canada’s employment equity policy was inspired by a1984 report written by Justice Rosalie Abella. The report contains these words:

“Although it is unquestionably true that many non-whites face employment discrimination, the degree to which different minorities suffer employment and economic disadvantages varies significantly by group and by region. To combine all non-whites together as visible minorities for the purpose of devising systems to improve their equitable participation, without making distinctions to assist those groups in particular need, may deflect attention from where the problems are greatest.”

Canada’s current employment equity policy inspires anger and resentment, as evidenced by 1106 comments on The Globe and Mail website. As long as it ensures equity in employment for some designated groups – instead of all Canadians – it will continue to do so.

Frances Woolley is a professor of economics at Carleton University

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