If Toronto’s so unfair to immigrants, why do immigrants keep flocking to Toronto?


Toronto is a prosperous city and considered the most multicultural in the world. But is it also deteriorating into a society of inequality and increasing economic unfairness? Apparently so, according to what the Toronto Star’s social-justice columnist calls “alarming new research” from United Way Greater Toronto, which purports to show declining fortunes for immigrants and racial minorities since 1980.

Fortunately, the doom-and-gloom narrative about Toronto immigrants is more alarmist than it is alarming. The happy reality is that the Greater Toronto Area remains an attractive place for immigrants, and the picture painted by United Way of immigrants being relegated into society’s basement relies on a mishandling of statistics.

The United Way report concludes that immigrants “have become poorer over time” by comparing the average income of all immigrants in 1980 to the average income of all immigrants in 2015, adjusted for inflation. But such a comparison doesn’t actually show that anybody has become poorer, since immigrants in 1980 and immigrants in 2015 are two different sets of people.

Among Toronto residents who had immigrated before 1981, the top three countries of birth were Italy, the United Kingdom, and Portugal. For those who immigrated between 2011 and 2016, it was India, China, and the Philippines. Naturally, if immigrants in 1980 were from wealthier economies than immigrants in 2015, the average income of the latter group might well be lower than the former, even if the incomes of individual immigrants and their families rose over this time period. What would be worrying is if immigrant incomes didn’t improve over time. But the United Way’s own data suggest that 1980-era immigrants to Toronto were far better off by 2015, and we should similarly expect that immigrants to Toronto in 2015 will achieve higher standards of living, and they and their children will enjoy better opportunities and greater material well-being 10, 20, and 35 years from now. That’s the most valuable measure of whether the economy is working for immigrants.

The United Way report also errs by citing “income gap” statistics (between white and minority workers, non-immigrants and immigrants, men and women, and middle-aged people and youth) as evidence of an unfair economy. But its income gap statistics do not control for education, experience, occupation, or any other factor except whether the worker is in a permanent full-time job or not.

All that these statistics therefore show is that different groups of people, with different education, different experiences, different skills, and working different jobs in different industries, will earn different incomes. This is not exactly an alarming revelation.

The United Way goes on to blame the “rise of precarious employment” for condemning minority, immigrant, and young workers to economic disadvantage. The fact that this is the preferred form of employment for many workers is ignored; according to Statistics Canada, 78 per cent of part-time workers are not looking to work full-time.

More government spending, stricter labour laws, higher minimum wages, and more unions are cited in the United Way report as ways to help immigrants and other disadvantaged workers by fighting the alleged perils of “precarious” employment. However, the evidence from around the world is that these interventionist ideas, especially minimum-wage laws, raise unemployment. The most seriously affected groups, according to the evidence, would be young, minority, and immigrant workers.

Notwithstanding counterproductive economic policies that can often deter immigration, including those supported by the United Way, the Greater Toronto Area remains an excellent place for immigrants to thrive and contribute to society. The best evidence for this is the continued increase, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of the total population, of immigrants in the region

This suggests that the immigrants themselves view the city as a place of opportunity, not stagnation. Indeed, with nearly half of its population, and growing, comprised of immigrants, Toronto might well be one of the greatest immigration success stories there is.

Matthew Lau is a Toronto writer.

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