Unemployment 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. Here we look at the portion of the labour force (those who are working or actively looking for work) who are unemployed, disaggregated by racial identity and sex.

How is Canada doing?

  • In 2016, excluding those who identify as Indigenous, people who identify as Arab, West Asian, and Black had the highest unemployment rates, at 11.8%, 10.2%, and 10.1% respectively, all of which are nearly double the rate of “non-visible minorities.”
  • Women who identify as Arab and West Asian had particularly high unemployment rates, at 14.2% and 12.0% respectively, and the unemployment rate for South Asian women was high compared to the unemployment rate for South Asian men. 
  • In 2016, the Indigenous unemployment rate was 13.4%, compared to the non-Indigenous unemployment rate of 6.1%. First Nations (15.9%) and Inuit (20.6%) had the highest unemployment rates of all racialized groups.
  • Across the Indigenous identities, men experience higher unemployment than women, with the overall difference being 4.7 percentage points, but the difference is higher among Inuit and First Nations peoples.

Metric discussion

Data broken up by racial identity and sex is from the 2016 census. The unemployment rate is the portion of the labour force who are not employed. The employed are those who did any work at all at a job or business. This includes persons 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.” Finally, this also includes those who had a job but were not at work due to an illness, disability, family responsibilities, vacation, or labour disputes. The labour force consists of persons who contribute or are available to contribute to the production of goods and services.

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 unemployment 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.


Unlike the employment rate, the unemployment and participation rates rely on definitions of “the labour force”—i.e., the employed and those looking for employment. A limitation of this approach is that it can be difficult to define what it means to be someone who wants to work. Additionally, it can be difficult to interpret the unemployment rate without looking at both the employment and participation rates. If the unemployment rate decreases, it could mean that  more people are finding a job, or that more people are giving up on finding a job and the labour force is getting smaller.

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.

© Inclusive Innovation Monitor 2021