Economy

Wednesday, 30 October 2013 23:27

Inside the mind of the ethnic consumer

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Inside the cloth grocery bags neatly tucked in the back seat of Bonnie Lee’s* car, Quaker Oats hot cereal, Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes and Catelli pasta sit next to dried mushrooms, rice noodles and dried tofu. To buy these items, Lee’s already gone to two stores (No Frills and T&T) near her home in the Toronto suburb of Mississauga.

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Wednesday, 23 October 2013 00:55

New Canadians pushed to edges of the economy

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by Ranjit Bhaskar
 
Social mobility, access to opportunity and fairness are foundational principles of Canadian society.
 
Sold on these ideals, immigrants arrive ready to thrive. Instead most struggle to survive as they find themselves shut out of the formal economy.
 
Faced with such exclusion, many are forced to find precarious jobs in the informal economy, says the latest study on the poor labour market outcomes faced by new immigrants. The Shadow Economies report released in Toronto on Tuesday attempts to throw more light on the dark underbelly of the city’s economy that is mostly invisible.
 
It puts a human face to an issue that is often talked in terms of the money it hides. Statistics Canada pegged the country's underground economy at up to $36-billion as of 2008.
 
A collaborative effort by east-end Toronto community service groups, the report moves past anecdotal stories to document the stark realities newcomers face. “Ours is the first Canadian ground-level examination of the topic to take a look at the hard numbers of the informal economy,” said Diane Dyson, the report’s co-author. “What we found was worse than what we expected. Instead of resilience, we found poverty.”
 
Poverty, in all its complexity, is a central theme in the findings of this report funded by the Wellesley Institute. It builds on earlier studies which looked at the dynamics of growing segregation of neighbourhoods by income bracket and the social networks that connect or isolate residents from the wider community.
 
Based on a survey of 450 immigrants, the researchers found only three per cent of respondents were still working in the professional occupations they were in before coming here.  Unemployment levels were very high with an average of 23 per cent compared to the Canadian average of three per cent. Only one-third of households reported being able to fully cover their household expenses on income earned through formal employment and 42 per cent of those engaged in informal economic activities earned less than $10,000 annually from them.
 
“If I knew the situation here ... I wouldn’t have applied to immigrate to Canada. I had a good job.
When they interviewed me at the visa office, I showed them my credentials, diplomas and my
experience. They were so nice. They never told me that they weren’t going to be recognized in
Canada,” said a respondent to the survey.
 
The report sits at the intersection of a number of complex issues: growing inequality, the spread of poverty and its concentration among immigrant and racialized populations, the changing shape of the labour force and the growth of employment precariousness, the debates over immigration classes (economic, family, refugee, temporary and undocumented), cultural diversity and immigrant settlement, the underground economy and tax avoidance.
 
Few ways out
 
“Immigrants who came through the front door, find they are not welcome and often settle for low wage ‘survival jobs’,” said Dyson. “Their Canadian dreams are quickly broken once they arrive.”
 
While the researchers expected discussions on credentialing processes, career ladders, and employment opportunities in their attempt to know how newcomers are coping, what they heard were stories of deadening isolation, unrestricted exploitation, exasperation, and dead ends with few ways of finding a bridge out of it.
 
Even their own ethnic communities in which they hope to find succour become entrapments rather than stepping stones. Consistent with other research, the study found that newcomers could not always rely on their ethnic groups for help in finding a good job. Those immigrants with fewer English-language skills could find needed supports, or, as easily, be taken advantage of within their own communities.
 
“As Canadians, we must be aware of the effects of these wider forces, especially on the most vulnerable and who have fewer choices. Even the wider protective effects of higher education do not shield against the structural discrimination that confines many immigrants to poor jobs,” said Dyson.
 
While the study did find some bright spots of mutual support, free enterprise, inspiration and new beginnings, the harsh reality is that many newcomers are working without the legislated protections which are intended to be universal minimum standards for all.
 
The study recommends that part of the solution will be to make explicit how regular employment is more profitable on both a personal and societal level and how one can claim one’s employment rights. However, a stronger underpinning has to be systemic enforcement, so that employers do not resort to an easy source of trouble-free, cheap labour and so that the most vulnerable among us are not left working without protection.
 
Dyson alluded to a separate country forming out there. The very “kind of ethnic enclaves or parallel communities that exist in some European countries” the government is keen to avoid. -- New Canadian Media

Canada’s diversity is not reflected in its economic activity.  While much of its immigration growth is from countries with emerging economies, only China and Brazil are among its top 10 export destinations; the remaining eight top trading partners are developed Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.

This imbalance is a missed opportunity for Canada as a whole and for immigrants themselves, says new research released by the Mowat Centre at the University of Toronto.

While collective understanding and definition of the country have been shaped by waves of immigration, things today are different from the early days, said Matthew Mendelsohn, director of the centre.  First, immigrants to Canada are experiencing poorer economic outcomes than previous generations. And secondly, the global economy is undergoing a re-balancing, with the rise of emerging economies and new structural economic challenges in OECD countries, including Canada.  Mendelsohn said that while much of this is well-known, “what is less obvious is that the mental maps we use to understand immigration also need to change.”

The report, Diaspora Nation: An Inquiry into the Economic Importance of Diaspora Networks in Canada, examines this issue and the related matter of stagnating economic outcomes among new comers to Canada by reconceptualizing immigrant communities.

“If Canadian businesses fail to mobilize immigrant talent and expertise, Canada will miss one of the enormous global economic developments now underway,” Mendelsohn said.

“Patterns of global trade and the nature of immigration to Canada are changing. Canada has an enormous opportunity – but it must do more. Bringing a disaspora lens to private sector and public sector decision-making must be a front of mind consideration, ” Serene Tan, one of the authors of the report, said. Maurice Bitran is the other author. – New Canadian Media 

Thursday, 30 May 2013 02:17

Immigrants may be rushing to the exits

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 by Our Ottawa Correspondent

With fresh university graduates being asked to “stay in school” to ride out the tough economic environment, experts are beginning to wonder if Canada is already witnessing another round of immigrant departures similar to the 1980’s and 1990’s.

Interviews with bankers, academics and industry researchers who track employment trends point to a troubling phenomenon that has been a hallmark of all recessionary periods: the exodus from Canada of working-age immigrants struck by a ‘triple whammy’ – the historic discounting of their international experience, combined with high Canada-wide unemployment rates and “hyper-cautious” employers.

Studies have shown that as many as two in five economic and business migrants leave the country within 10 years of arrival and this number tends to go up by 50 per cent during economic downturns. Half of them leave in the first year after landing.

All the experts we spoke to pointed to a fundamental mismatch in the economy --  a 7.2 per cent unemployment rate but also two million temporary foreign workers, and skills shortages in western Canada. The country is also on target to welcome about a quarter-million new immigrants this year. Diana MacKay, director for education, health and immigration programs at the Conference Board of Canada is as surprised as everybody else about the inability of the market to correct this mismatch. Tools like Workopolis, monster.com and even LinkedIn that help jobseekers connect to opportunities have seemingly failed, she says.

Pointing to the “droves” who returned to Hong Kong after the relatively smooth handover of the island to Chinese control in 1997, MacKay suggests immigrants are inherently risk-takers and willing to move again – both within Canada and internationally. Asked what specifically newcomers should do to make themselves more appealing to hiring managers, she cautioned against “behaving like John Smith (the classic Canadian),” suggesting instead that they should position themselves as “innovators” who bring new perspectives and experiences to the workplace.

Her research group, which surely has the ear of business, recommends that employers should also be “actively seeking” immigrant talent because it is “good for business” as it boosts national productivity and enables Canada to take advantage of market opportunities all over the world.

Chronic under-employment

Employers, though, don’t seem to be getting the message. Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC (Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce) World Markets, is among those who think employers should be doing a better job of hiring and retaining new talent. He thinks some of the positions being taken by temporary foreign workers can be filled by promoting internally and through in-house training. This could also potentially help newcomers who have suffered from “chronic under-employment” for a long time. In fact, according to a paper he wrote in Aug. 2012, nearly half of all immigrants who arrived between 2001 and 2006 are overqualified for the positions they occupy.

Wage differences also continue to persist, with immigrant earnings being 40 per cent lower, according to Tal. This is worse than in the 1970’s when immigrant earnings were estimated at 80 per cent of average Canadian-born worker salaries. “Immigration is critical to Canada’s economy but it is clear some inherent barriers exist that prevent us from reaping the full economic benefits new Canadians have to offer,” the economist said.

Both the Conference Board and CIBC have estimated the lost Canadian productivity caused by immigrant unemployment and under-employment. The Conference Board reported in 2001 that this wasted human resource was costing the Canadian economy between $3.4 billion and $5 billion annually. Tal estimates the drain much higher: “We estimate that the current employment and wage gaps between new immigrants and native-born Canadians cost the economy slightly more than $20 billion in forgone earnings.”

With these sort of systemic biases persisting and in a tough economic climate that is a fallout of the 2008-09 economic recession, demographers such as University of British Columbia, UBC’s Dan Hiebert would be looking for new data from the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada that tracked newcomers during their first four years after arrival. Unfortunately, the last release available from Statistics Canada is dated April, 2007.

If the past is any indication, Canada can expect a similar pattern of what demographers call “out migration” to happen this time around. However, we may not know if we are in the middle of an exodus until well after the latest drove has left.  – New Canadian Media

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