Since the early 1980s, immigrants have done less well than their Canada-born peers and each year, they fall further behind
It always surprises Don Drummond, chief economist of the Toronto Dominion Bank, when business leaders tout immigration as the key to Canada's economic success.
Their information is at least 25 years out of date.
Since the early 1980s, immigrants have done less well than their Canada-born peers. Each year, they fall further behind.
Today's newcomers, despite being highly educated, take longer to become self-supporting than their predecessors. Some never do. What is even more worrisome is that their children are dropping out of school, creating an intergenerational cycle of poverty.
"They're pulling the economy down," Drummond said. "I don't think people have really understood that."
Business leaders are right that Canada will have to depend on immigrants to maintain its standard of living. They already account for two-thirds of the country's population growth. By 2030, it will be 100 per cent.
But they are wrong to blithely assume that the 240,000 newcomers who arrive in Canada each year will integrate into the workforce, catch up to their native-born contemporaries and propel the economy forward.
That used to happen.
In the 1970s, it took immigrants an average of 10 years to reach, or exceed, the income levels of people born in this country. They worked hard, saved, bought homes, built businesses and sent their sons and daughters to university. The kids did better than their parents.
But in the '80s, the pattern began to change. By the end of the decade, a male immigrant with 10 years of Canadian work experience was earning 90.1 per cent as much as his native-born counterpart. By the end of the '90s, it had slipped to 79.8 per cent. The trajectory is still heading downward.
Some commentators blame the decline on a shift in immigration flows. They contend that recent newcomers from Asia don't adapt to life in this country as well as their European predecessors.
But a number other factors have also changed:
Ottawa has revamped Canada's immigration system to attract highly educated foreigners, not skilled tradespeople. This has created a workforce that is out of sync with the country's labour needs. It has also stunted the careers of many well-qualified immigrants, who arrive only to find their academic and professional credentials aren't recognized here.
The federal and provincial governments have curtailed the settlement services that immigrants need to get established in this country.
Ontario has skimped on language instruction, making school a daily ordeal for students from non-English-speaking homes.
The province has cancelled anti-racism education, leaving kids to figure out how to deal with stereotypes and ethnic friction themselves.
And, although no one talks about skin colour, employers aren't hiring and promoting immigrants the way they did when most newcomers were white.
Unless these trends are reversed, it is hard to see how immigration will strengthen – or even sustain – the Canadian economy.
What worries Drummond most is the children of today's immigrants. They are the ones who will have to fill the spots vacated by retiring baby boomers. But many of them are failing at school, living in poverty and feeling the tug of gangs and crime. "If we don't succeed with these children, then the cycle is going to go on and on," he said.
Nice to see that there is at least one economist who is prepared to look at the negative impact of immigration.