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Canadian dream elusive for some racialized 2nd-generation Canadians, study finds | CBC News



New research has found that the Canadian dream is proving elusive for some racialized second-generation Canadians born since the 1960s, despite having higher educational levels than their white counterparts.

A new study, entitled “Is the Canadian dream broken? Recent trends in equality of opportunity for the racialized second generation,” found that educational attainment and employment earnings are not uniform across groups of racialized second-generation Canadians, with some groups experiencing further disparities below the mainstream average.

And while educational levels for some racialized groups have surged, employment earnings were lower for most groups compared to the mainstream population, the study found. It also discovered intergroup differences.

The study, by researchers at four universities and released on Wednesday, defines the Canadian dream for immigrants as equality of opportunity and the chance to achieve financial security. Even if the first generation lives in poverty, the next generation will be able to pull itself out of poverty and achieve economic success, according to this definition.

“I don’t think the Canadian dream is accessible to everyone equally,” said Rupa Banerjee, one of the authors of the study and associate professor at Toronto Metropolitan University.

“For some, the Canadian dream is holding pretty well, but for others, it’s failing. And that failure has really, really serious and significant repercussions, not just for them and their family, but for the entire society,” added Banerjee, also the Canada Research Chair in the economic inclusion of immigrants.

“We’ve always kind of been smug that Canada is not like Europe or Canada is not like the U.S., that we’re much more multicultural. We believe in pluralism. But I think that’s a bit of a myth that we’ve kind of felt good about but doesn’t really exist, and in that sense, the Canadian dream is failing.”

Rupa Banerjee, an associate professor at Toronto Metropolitan University, says: ‘I don’t think the Canadian dream is accessible to everyone equally.’ (CBC)

The study defines second-generation as Canadian-born individuals with at least one immigrant parent.

It looked at educational attainment and employment earnings in three of “successive 10-year birth-cohorts” of second-generation Canadians from the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s, specifically 1966-1975, 1976-1985, and 1986-1995.

It focused on people 26 to 35, using data from the 1981, 1991, 2001, 2021 Canadian Census of Population and the 2011 National Household Survey. Examining the progress of five racialized groups, South Asian, Chinese, Black, Filipino, and Latin American, it compared them to third-and-higher generation white Canadians.

The study sample would have completed their education and begun their work careers.

Anti-Black racism is real, study author says

According to Banerjee, the study’s main findings include:

  • Chinese and South Asian populations have maintained high educational levels, whereas Black individuals, and to some extent Filipino and Latin American individuals, show declining trends across cohorts.
  • Despite a higher proportion of second-generation individuals holding university degrees, earnings were lower for most groups compared to the mainstream population, with pronounced declines observed over time among Black second-generation men and women.
  • Changing characteristics of immigrant parents do not fully account for these trends, raising questions about longer-term integration processes among different ethno-racial minorities in Canada.

Banerjee said the study shows that anti-Black racism is real and Canada is not a post-racial society.

Students make their way around the renamed Toronto Metropolitan University (TMU).
A student makes his way around Toronto Metropolitan University in Toronto on Wednesday, April 26, 2023. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

The study notes that second-generation Canadians face fewer barriers than their parents because they are born and raised in Canada, benefit from the local educational system, and are typically fluent in English or French.

The study says racialized second generation Canadians are an increasingly important group in Canada. One in four people in Canada identifies with a non-white population group, either racialized or visible minority and that number is growing. The second-generation racialized population in Canada will more than double from 2.2 million in 2016 to between 4.8 million and 6.3 million by 2041, it says citing Statistics Canada.

Canada is supposed to be the land of equal opportunity and what this study shows us is that it is not.– Sheila Block

“When I go on the subway in Toronto or the GO train, it is the United Nations. It is as diverse as you can ever imagine. As soon as you go in the underground PATH — that’s like the business financial sector — at certain business hours where everyone is going to their financial jobs, you don’t see that diversity anymore,” Banerjee said.

“You’ll see here and there, but not even a fraction of the diversity that you’ll just see walking down the street or in the subway. Why is that? There is discrimination. I mean, we cannot pretend that it’s not.”

System keeps ‘certain people down,’ professor says

Due in part to nepotism, parental connections or referral-based hiring, the status quo is maintained, and some racialized second-generation Canadians don’t get their foot in the door, she said.

“It’s that they won’t even see that resume because their resume won’t even be brought to them, because that person won’t even know about the job posting because it was never posted,” she said.

Sheila Block is the author of new study from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives.
Sheila Block, an economist and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says of the study: ‘I think what it really shows us is the persistence of racism in Canadian society and in the labour market in particular.’ (Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives)

“All of these things that kind of set up the system, keep certain people down and allow others to succeed. Unless you have a family member who’s already in that industry, who can tell you about the job, who can allow you to get introduced to the hiring team, how are you ever going to get in there?”

Banerjee said solutions include talking about the issue, not pretending Canadian society is equal, providing more supports to youth at risk and being aware that employment equity is worthwhile and not something that pits merit against equity. 

Sheila Block, an economist and a research associate with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, said she is not surprised by the findings and that they are consistent with other studies she has seen. The severity of anti-Black racism in the labour market, in particular, is apparent in the data, she said. 

“I think this is a very rich piece of research that tells a really important story about labour market outcomes for racialized Canadians,” Block said. “I think what it really shows us is the persistence of racism in Canadian society and in the labour market in particular.”

Block said a strong policy response to the study is needed and that interventions could include an increase in minimum wage, an increase in access to unionization, pay transparency and employment equity.

“Canada is supposed to be the land of equal opportunity and what this study shows us is that it is not,” she said.


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