Canada's hidden dimensions of inequality

It seems to be the Canadian way. While the United States often directly confronts their social injustices, in Canada we tend to pretend they don’t exist, gloss over them, and if that ultimately fails with the hindsight of history, we quickly apologize and move on.

Case in point, while the US has directly reported monthly labour force statistics by race for many decades, Canada’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) doesn’t even collect information on race. Ditto for persons with disabil­ities and other equality-seeking groups. And that “see no evil” attitude applies to other major surveys. Even worse, the LFS and most other surveys expli­citly exclude Aboriginal reserves from their surveys. David Macdonald of the CCPA estimates that if they were included, unemployment and poverty rates would be higher, especially in Western provinces.

In fact, the limited data we have shows inequalities are worse here, with infant mortality, education, incarcer­ation, unemployment, income, and life expectancy all proportionately worse for Aboriginal people in Canada than for African-Americans. And that second class treatment extends to health care and other public services, as the Wellesley Institute has documented.

Incomes, poverty and employment outcomes for racialized workers, and especially racialized women, in Canada are also considerably worse than average and not getting much better. Women are more likely to be in precarious jobs and information from CUPE’s membership survey shows racialized workers are too.

In a world where information is power, it’s hard not to see the Harper government’s elimination of funding for the fledging First Nations Statistical Institute, the National Council of Welfare and the long-form census as deeply political acts, particularly while providing billions in additional tax breaks to top incomes.

Canada is an increasingly diverse country, but we’re certainly not equal. Our income gap for women hasn’t declined much in the past decade and is no better than the U.S. Public policy does make a difference; pay gaps for women are smaller where effective pay equity legislation is in place. We need stronger pay equity legislation together with employment equity measures, as CUPE has outlined in recent fact sheets. The pay gap for public sector workers and for unionized workers is also con­si­derably smaller than for private sector and non-unionized workers. Quality public services are especially important to ensure everyone can have more equal opportunities.

We now have an opportunity to at least get a much-needed, more accurate and multi-dimensional perspective of our labour force with the planned redesign of our labour force survey. The continued absence of some groups not only compounds social injustices, but also makes little economic sense. Aboriginal people in Canada and immigrants are expected to contribute significantly to Canada’s labour force growth in coming decades. If we can’t accurately measure the shift, we’re neglecting our future.