South Asian and Black women face high jobless rates in Canada


Black and South Asian women had among the highest unemployment rates in Canada in July, according to Statistics Canada figures published Friday that for the first time included race-based data.

The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on Canadian women, who have trailed men in returning to pre-COVID-19 employment levels, in part because they are more likely to work in the face-to-face services sector.

For women of color, the numbers are particularly steep. In July, the jobless rate for South Asian women aged 15 to 69 was 20.4%, while it was 20.3% for Arab women and 18.6% for black women. By comparison, the jobless rate for white women was 9.2%.

“What this pandemic has truly done is to shine a giant spotlight on all the disadvantages that were already there that we did not want to discuss,” said Stephania Varalli, co-chief executive of Women of Influence, a networking organization for women of diverse backgrounds.

Varalli said non-white women face challenges ranging from systematic racism, to being more likely to be employed in part-time or precarious work, to having less access to childcare or elder care options.

“It’s a big and scary problem that will not be easy to resolve,” she said.

Canada added 418,500 jobs in July and the overall unemployment rate fell to 10.9%, StatsCan said on Friday.

For both men and women aged 15 to 69, South Asians had the highest unemployment rate in July at 17.8%, followed by Arabs and Blacks at 17.3% and 16.8% respectively.

Filipino Canadians, many of whom are frontline health and support workers, had the lowest jobless rate of the non-white groups at 13.2%, though their labor participation rate fell, suggesting some who lost their jobs have temporarily left the workforce.

One bright spot has been female entrepreneurs, who have been versatile in adapting to changes brought on by the pandemic, Statistics Canada research shows.

About 55% of businesses owned by women introduced new ways to interact with or sell to customers during the coronavirus shutdowns, while 34% modified their products, according to a StatsCan study released last month.

These rates outpaced the average for all businesses.

Evelyne Nyairo, a Kenyan-Canadian chemist and biologist who launched a skincare line in 2015, said COVID-19 changed her business overnight, cutting her supply chain and forcing her to lay off workers. She pivoted to making hand sanitizers in response to a Canadian government appeal.

Within four weeks she had a hand sanitizer on the market and had refocused her broader product sales on end users, building direct relationships with consumers to drive repeat sales.

“People who were not our customers became our customers,” said Nyairo, adding: “It’s challenging times. We don’t know what tomorrow is going to look like, so I need to be flexible.”



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