Poverty and Recent Immigrants

Human Resources and Social Development Canada have posted a research report

It is no secret or surprise that new immigrants (86% of whom are workers of colour) face more significant labour market barriers than other working-age Canadians, and that they are at greater risk of experiencing poverty. But more empirical detail is always useful.

This study uses StatsCan (SLID) data to look at the experience of working age immgrants who arrived in Canada between 1990 and 2004. They were at much higher risk of living in poverty than persons born in Canada, despite significantly higher education and more potential earners per household. The poverty rate for working age recent immigrants has been stuck at about 20% since 2000, though the rate has fallen somewhat since the 1990s. Working age recent immigrants are more than twice as likely to live in poverty than comparable Canadian-born persons (23.2% vs. 10.8% in 2004), and those who work more than 910 hours per week – the working poor – are three times more likely to be poor (13.4% vs 4.2%).
Comparing working age recent immigrants who live in poverty to Canadian- born working age persons in poverty in 2004, the study finds that this group is more reliant on labour income, and less likely to get income from government transfers. Only 20% of working age immigrants in poverty did not earn any income in 2004 (vs 37% for the non immigrant working age poor), while 84% did not recieve any income from social assistance (vs 67%). Strikingly, 80% did not recieve any Employment Insurance benefits. (At 89%, non receipt of EI benefits was even higher for the non immigrant working age poor.)

A key issue for working poor recent immigrants is clearly low wages – 48% in 2004 earned less than $10 per hour – combined with not enough hours of work (the average was 1590 hours in 2004.) The study does not examine the issue, but non receipt of EI seems likely to be linked to the fact that many recent immigrants combine low paid jobs with self employment (32% report some self-employment income), such that hours thresholds for collecting EI are not met during periods of unemployment.

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