Black Canadians: Income Gaps

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From mental health to school performance, black Canadians face a number of complex ongoing challenges that undermine the country’s well-being and potential. But, 2017 Canadian research shows that there are two veritable magic-bullet solutions to improving mental health and well-being for immigrants in Canada, particularly black immigrants: fostering belonging and addressing income inequality.

While we often talk about fostering belonging, closing the black income gap is seemingly off the table. This means we’re missing a crucial part of the discussion.

The data on the black income gap is star. In a Canadian context, 23.9 percent of black Canadians are below the low-income cut-off. Visible minorities in Canada earn $47,487 on average, while average income for black people is $35,310; and, black unemployment sits at 12.5 per cent, as compared to 7.7 percent for other visible minorities.

Black Canadians have lower earnings

Income is about money, but at its roots are barriers. These are barriers to higher income that black Canadians face, and the new barriers low income creates.

For the many members of Canadian community who are immigrants, black people’s skills and credentials are often ignored. For example, it can take years to recognize the experience and expertise of new Canadians. That’s years of lost income for black immigrants, and years of lost talent for the country.

Racism itself is also a barrier to income equality. For example, there are Canadian studies showing that so-called “ethnic” names (including those common to black people) receive less consideration on resumes than European names.

From lower health outcomes to less time with children as black parents need to work longer hours to make ends meet, the black income gap releases the first domino in a downward spiral of negative outcomes for black families. The devastation of this cycle is particularly evident in second-generation immigrant children, who often experience worse mental health than their immigrant parents.

Solutions to inequality

Clearly, there’s work to be done. And everyone needs to play a part in addressing the income gap for black Canadians.

First, new and better policies must be in place. These include, for a start, policies related to assessment and recognition of credentials; policies that address systemic racism in the employment process. Canada also needs black people at the decision-making tables and in all levels of organization and institutions.

On the employment side, Canada needs employers who are not just aware of biases, but who take active, evidence-based measures to address these biases in their hiring and promotions decisions.

And for the black community, Canada needs to build its own power by fostering strategic alliances with other groups who have traditionally been marginalized and disenfranchised. For example, the country needs to look to, work with, and mutually support Indigenous communities, who have faced their own systemic barriers to health and well-being.

Finally, Canada needs to call on the power of its own black diversity, reaching out to and supporting new immigrants, religious minorities, language minorities, and sexual and gender minorities within its own diverse communities.

Of course, this work isn’t easy.

It means asking hard questions of the systems, governments, and employers. But, if the country is serious about improving outcomes for the black community, it can’t ignore the income gap.

And, this isn’t just about the black community. Addressing the black income gap means all Canadians benefit from the strengths, skills, brilliance, and excellence of black Canadians. The black community has so much to offer.

By tackling the black income gap, the community will flourish. Canada will grow and prosper. Its children will be healthier and its communities stronger.

That’s good for black people, and it’s good for all Canadians.