Lower unemployment rates and higher wages in 2022 helped to narrow the employment gap between racialized workers and workers who identify as white, but not for Black workers, according to a new report.

The report, released Wednesday by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, found that the benefits of the pandemic recovery, such as wage increases, have been unevenly distributed for racialized workers, as the wage and employment gap widened between Black workers and their white counterparts.

According to the report, racialized workers, or visible minorities, are defined as those who are “non-Caucasian in race or non‑white in colour,” excluding Indigenous groups. The data indicates that anti-Black racism is a dominant force in the labour market, the report’s authors told the Star.

“Despite some progress for racialized workers as a whole, Black workers continue to bear a disproportionate burden of employment inequality,” said Grace-Edward Galabuzi, a professor in the department of politics and public administration at Toronto Metropolitan University and report co-author. “These data demonstrate the need for continued policy efforts to combat anti-Black racism in the workplace.”

The research found that racialized workers are overall more likely to be working in industries with high employment growth and faster wage growth than Black workers. In lower-wage occupations there is an overrepresentation of Black workers. Fifty-two per cent of racialized workers are in occupations in the bottom half of the wage distribution compared with 48 per cent of white workers and 60 per cent of Black workers.

“There’s a structural problem here that starts with our education system,” said Galabuzi. “Especially with Black youth, they’re not encouraged to go into higher-earning professions in the same way as their white counterparts, and tackle prejudices in grade school and post-secondary education.”

In 2022, the unemployment rate fell by 2.9 percentage points for all racialized workers, 2.1 percentage points for white workers, but only 1.6 percentage points for Black workers, the report said.

And though wages increased during the pandemic, racialized and Black men still earn less than their white counterparts, and Black and racialized women face even greater hurdles.

In 2022, comparing average weekly wages in Ontario, racialized men earned 90 cents and Black men earned 77 cents for every dollar white men earned.

Racialized women earned 71 cents and Black women earned 68 cents for every dollar white men earned.

“The pandemic recovery has been uneven, and while wages are up, racialized men and women and Black men and women still don’t make their fair share,” said Sheila Block, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and report co-author.

“We started this research because we were curious about the tight labour market and who stands to benefit from it. And this data shows us marginalized communities continue to face barriers.”

Black men’s employment continues to be concentrated in lower-wage industries and in industries that have experienced employment losses since 2019, the report said, while Black women have the smallest share of their employment in occupations with the fastest wage growth.

Black workers are overrepresented in retail; accommodation and food; and arts and entertainment, which were the hardest-hit industries during the pandemic, said Galabuzi, and are experiencing the most gradual recovery.

However, finance, administration jobs, and professional, scientific and technical services (scientists, accountants, marketing) all received higher wages and lower unemployment rates, accounting for greater representation of white workers and non-Black racialized groups, he added.

“There’s been a shift in the labour market as people moved from food service and accommodation to professional, scientific and technical services,” Galabuzi said. “So Black workers are left behind in industries where there is job loss (and more precarious work).”

The report also highlights how Bill 124 — which was introduced in 2019 by the Ford government to cap wage increases for nurses and other public sector workers at one per cent a year for three years — had a disproportionate impact on low-wage racialized women.

In November 2022, the bill was ruled unconstitutional, though the government is appealing the decision.

Black women make up 15 per cent of nurse aides, orderlies and patient services associates while they make up only three per cent of total employment. All racialized women make up 36 per cent of social and community service workers but account for only 17 per cent of total employment.

“The racialized and gendered labour market gap persists, and further policy interventions are needed,” said Block.

“The first and most obvious step to take would be for the Ontario government to repeal its wage restraint legislation. Workplaces also need to review their diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. And the education system needs to better support and guide Black students. It requires a much larger societal approach to tackle anti-Black racism in the workforce.”


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