Employment rate of those aged 20 to 64 by racial identity and sex, 2016

What is this metric and why is it important?

Labour force statistics not only tell us about the health of the economy generally, but also provide insight into who is participating, who is excluded, and who is benefitting. We investigate this here by looking at the portion of the working age population that is employed, disaggregated by racial identity and sex.

How is Canada doing?

  • In 2016, excluding those who identify as Indigenous, Arab, West Asian, and Korean people aged 25 to 64 had the lowest employment rates, at 62.0%, 64.2%, and 68.1% respectively.
  • The low participation rates of those who identify as Arab, West Asian, and Korean is largely driven by the low participation rate of women in those groups. 
  • In 2016, the Indigenous employment rate was 62.0%, compared to the non-Indigenous employment rate of 76.0%. First Nations (56.8%) and Inuit (57.4%) had the lowest employment rates of all racialized groups.

Metric discussion

Data broken up by racial identity and sex is from the 2016 census, which defines the employed as those who did any work at all at a job or business in the previous year. This includes people who did unpaid family work, which is defined as “unpaid work contributing directly to the operation of a farm, business or professional practice owned and operated by a related member of the same household.” It also includes those who had a job but were not at work during the survey period due to illness, disability, family responsibilities, vacation, or labour disputes. 

For Statistics Canada, racial identity is composed of two distinct dimensions: visible minority and Indigenous identity. Those counted as visible minorities are “persons, other than Aboriginal peoples, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour." Those considered visible minorities are then broken into further categories. It should be noted that by "sex", Statistics Canada refers to biological sex and not gender. 

While the innovation economy is not the economy at large, the distinction is often murky and ill-defined. Given the broad definition we use for the innovation economy, the employment rate in the larger economy gives a reasonable indication of the employment rate in the innovation economy. Differences across jurisdictions speak to the extent to which people have access to employment opportunities and the accompanying income and benefits.


The employment rate does not account for why someone is not employed: they could be choosing not to be for a variety of reasons, or may only work seasonally. The unemployment rate attempts to address this by only including those who are actively looking for work, but this comes with its own issues—namely what qualifies as “looking for work.”

The aggregation of different groups into the category of “not a visible minority” makes certain comparisons difficult. Additionally, the lack of a distinct category for those who identify as “White” or “Caucasian” impairs analysis.

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