Published on January 27, 2023.
By: Yanet Mengisite
In North America, the labour market is not as even-handed as it portrays to be. In certain fields, Black people and people of colour (POC) make up the majority of the working class industries. In a country recognized for its acceptance and diversity, why is that?
There has been a division in the labour market, specifically in the workforce that has subjected minorities to work unsafe positions. During Covid-19, there was an increase in workers being placed in vulnerable working conditions.
If the division of labour is not addressed, the next economic crisis or world issue will force these vulnerable workers back into precarious situations, and might even force them into facing destitution.
How low paying jobs are concentrated with Black people
The report, Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market used census data and found that Canada’s labour market is fairly racially divided.
For instance, racialized women and men are over-represented in fields such as administrative support, waste management, and remediation services.
Racialized men make up seven point seven per cent of the overall labour force while racialized women make up seven per cent. Yet, in the previously stated categories, racialized men make up ten per cent while women make up eight, leading to an overrepresentation on both ends of the spectrum.
The over-representation in these sectors is a problem because these sectors contain a majority of low-wage jobs. These jobs include being a call centre employee, security guard, or janitor.
Contract jobs are a precarious form of employment because they do not always offer long-term financial stability. There is a concentration of Black employees in precarious health care jobs as well.
Statistics Canada found that occupations such as nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates contain approximately 12 per cent of Black employees. Since Black employees make up three per cent of the total in other fields, this is a substantial increase in this group. These positions in healthcare are usually low-wage and involve uncertain work terms.
The overrepresentation of Black people in low-paying job sectors has placed a significant barrier to the livelihood of Black Canadians. It pushes Black people and other racialized Canadians closer to poverty, and the lack of benefits holds them back from excelling within a diverse economy.
Canada’s Colour Coded Labour Market revealed that although during the years of 2000 and 2005 the Canadian economy excelled, racialized workers were placed at a disadvantage.
Despite influencing the national economical growth of 13 per cent, the average income of racialized Canadians grew a measly zero point two per cent. The Canadian labour market is divided with racialized Canadians, which demonstrates the history of racialized prejudice that Black communities have endured that remains an issue today.
How did it end up this way?
The reason the labour market is divided is due to structural exclusion and cultural association. This refers to the way structures such as governments exclude Black people from the labour market until the 1960s.
This meant Black people had to find other places to work, and the wages of willing establishments were typically low. In the 1960, after reforms were made, Black people could enter different sectors of work. However, the patterns of structural exclusion and racism did not disappear overnight. That is why there is the cultural association aspect involved.
Forcing Black people into certain areas of labour meant that these professions became visibly Black, while white people were able to exist in all fields, while also creating “white-only” industries in the higher-paying fields.
In the healthcare field, Black people, especially women, face low-paying positions such as personal support workers (PSW) or practical nurses in long-term care sector settings where they typically care for older patients.
Alternatively, white women in this field are not concentrated in any particular positions, and occupy varying positions, such as supervisors or even public relations roles.
Furthermore, a study revealed that white women are slightly underrepresented among lower-paid licensed practical nurses and aides compared with their overall representation in the industry.
In this setting, PSW and practical nurses are more likely to work in unsatisfactory work conditions, and face workplace disadvantages, due to the understaffing of many long-term care facilities. This prompts workers to take up more tasks than an individual should be able to handle, leaving them vulnerable to injury.
The healthcare sector demonstrates that there is a gap in the labour market where Black workers take on physically demanding occupations, while white people find themselves in better, more leisurely positions, within the same field.
The racialized nature of the labour market has put racialized groups in vulnerable work positions. They are vulnerable because many of the sectors they work in are not only low-wage but are also non-unionized and contract-based.
During economic crises, workers were unsupported financially. During the Covid-19 pandemic, which shifted working conditions and patterns, one in three Black women were frontline workers such as PSW, nursing assistance, cashiers, and sales associates.
The organization Lean In conducted research on the pandemic and found that 47 per cent of Black women went to work, despite the fact that there was a valid reason to stay home.
The two statistics overlap because Black women make up a large number of the frontline workers positions, which do not provide a safety net. They feel obligated to work, even during a global health crisis, because they feel their position will not let them take time off.
This is one of the consequences that exist in the racialized labour market, Black workers are confronted with the societal pressures of Blackness combined with being vulnerable to the unstable nature of the markets.
The labour market is not balanced. The underpinning issues of historic structural exclusion are still present today, which is why many Black and POC professionals accept low-paying, precarious sectors.
This further subjects these groups to unsatisfactory work prospects and puts them at risk financially. Despite this, there are some possible immediate solutions to bolster the labour market for these groups.
There not only needs to be fair wages, but greater job security within contracts, and more opportunities for contract workers to be promoted within their field of employment. That way, these racialized sectors will offer growth opportunities to those in these sectors.