There have been a few interesting articles lately discussing immigrants’ employment success in Canada. Last week, The Globe and Mail published a story about a new project begun by Maytree, a charitable organization that runs all kinds of interesting programs to help employers hire new immigrants, train and mentor newcomers to organize political campaigns or run for office, and share best practices in integration. Maytree’s current project, under its Assisting Local Leaders with Immigrant Employment Strategies (ALLIES) initiative, connects skilled immigrants with small- and medium-sized businesses. Small- and medium-sized employers hire about 64% of private sector employees, but many immigrants don’t know about them. The companies may lack the human resources skills and staff to recruit immigrants.

Immigrants’ paths towards economic success have been linked to many factors, including acceptance of foreign credentials and immigrants’ social networks. A paper recently released by Metropolis BC, using the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Canada (LSIC), found that immigrants take different paths towards employment depending upon their immigration category. In 2007, 60% of immigrants to Canada were economic, 25% were family immigrants, and 15% were refugees. Immigrant Category, Social Networks, and Ethnic Workplaces over Time: A Longitudinal Analysis of Immigrants’ Economic Integration in Canada (Metropolis BC Working Paper 11-10) summarizes the study conducted by Wendy Roth, Marc-David Seidel, Dennis Ma and Eiston Lo. The authors analyzed LSIC data, collected 6 months, 2 years, and 4 years after immigrants’ arrival in Canada, to determine how the workplace type (ethnic or non-ethnic) influences the ethnic composition of social ties, and how these two factors impact immigrants’ economic success. They found that economic immigrants benefit from non-ethnic workplaces, family immigrants face economic penalties when they enter the open economy, and refugees benefit from entrepreneurship. In short, “Immigration policies sort immigrants into different labour market trajectories with different financial returns.”

Family immigrants are more likely to remain in the ethnic labour market, leading to co-ethnic friendships. When they move into the open economy, they are less likely to reap its benefits than economic immigrants. They’re also less likely to benefit from entrepreneurship than refugees, who use this as a path to long-term success. Obviously, family immigrants were sponsored by their relatives; 37% of economic immigrants and 65% of refugees had relatives in Canada before immigrating. Economic immigrants are more likely to speak English or French, and have higher levels of education, facilitating non-ethnic social ties and employment in non-ethnic workplaces. Interestingly, the ethnic concentration of the CMA and the presence of friends or family in Canada before immigration had no impact on the odds of working in a non-ethnic workplace or the odds of making non-ethnic friendships. However, people who made friendships through friends and relatives in Canada or through religious activities were more likely to make ethnic friends, while making friends through ESL classes or work more often led to non-ethnic friendships. Those who form mainly non-ethnic friendships early earn higher incomes. While economic immigrants develop diverse social networks and move into the open economy, family immigrants tend to make their contacts and maintain employment in the ethnic market, facing economic barriers to success elsewhere. However, the authors stress that family immigrants often provide support for their families, such as child care, which has economic benefits. Refugees’ relative success from entrepreneurship seems to reflect the support they receive from private sponsors or the government.

This is further fuel for my dissertation, which found that structural changes, such as changes in immigration policy, impacted the housing and transportation choices of Filipino immigrants over several decades. Policy is a remarkable sorting agent, and sub-categories such as the Live-in Caregiver Program or Entrepreneur Class can have major impacts on immigrants’ housing and transportation trajectories. Social networks were crucial factors in finding housing and transportation options, not to mention finding jobs and accessing bridging or training programs.

There has been a lot of debate and policy discussion in Metro Vancouver over the increasing suburbanization of businesses over the past two decades. The issue is a concern for planners for many reasons: the dispersed locations encourage urban sprawl and greenfield construction. Because business parks are often far from existing transit infrastructure, they can also increase trips by single-occupant vehicles (SOVs). But for many business owners, the cheaper land and lower taxes in fringe areas are too good to pass up. Many municipalities favour office and business park construction in their fringe areas because the new employers add to their tax base and also provide local jobs. This trend still seems to be alive and well in Metro Vancouver, despite policies supporting mixed-use centres throughout the region, but in some American cities the tide seems to be turning.

In an article in the Harvard Business Review, Ania Wieckowski writes that “suburbs have lost their sheen” as both younger and older worker are increasingly choosing to live in denser, mixed-use communities with better transportation options. In the last US Census, 64% of 25- to 34-year olds said they looked for a job after choosing a city in which to live. Businesses like United Airlines and Quicken Loans recently announced that they would be moving their headquarters from suburban to urban locations: United will locate in downtown Chicago and Quicken Loans in Detroit. Many CEOs are realizing that if they want to remain competitive, they need to contribute to more vibrant central cities.

Walgreens at Madison Avenue and 41st Street in the 1930s. Image from the NYPL Digital Gallery.

New Orleans Canal Street location

Such a shift means that there would have to be all kinds of changes in the ways national retail chains locate and design their stores: the big-box and strip mall architectural styles will need to evolve to fit more urban settings…or evolve back to the city, as Wieckowski puts it. Walgreens, which recently acquired the Duane Reed chain, used to be a staple on small town main streets. We have seen this trend in Canadian cities, with some big box stores choosing to locate in inner city areas: Home Depot, Canadian Tire, Future Shop, and the like. Vancouver actually has some great examples of these, like the Shoppers Drug Mart/Future Shop on West Broadway near Burrard Street. But we certainly don’t have any examples of major employers relocating to the city: as Tom Hutton frequently writes, Vancouver is still reeling from the losses of the major forestry headquarters during its transition from a resource-based economy to a finance- and service-based economy.

As the American shift back to the city is happening at a time when housing choices are also skewing urban, it’s again time to reflect on the differences between their cities and ours: while we certainly have urban sprawl and suburbanized employment, the level of disinvestment in our cities is still not the same as it is in the US. In particular, without the high levels of segregation and massive public housing projects located in many American cities back in the 1950s and 1960s, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, and even smaller cities like London and Kelowna have been able to maintain competitive housing prices in inner city neighbourhoods. Too competitive, in fact: housing affordability is a major problem in our the first three cities, and even in smaller cities like Kelowna and Vernon, BC. Whereas in the US, the recent shift back to cities as a place for business location may be tied to the recent trend to live in urban centres, which I discussed in a previous post. The current housing crisis means that in many American cities, housing is affordable even in inner city neighbourhoods, and with the new emphasis on rental housing there are more options available for those wanting to live urban lifestyles. These types of choices are less available in Canadian cities because the demand for urban housing never decreased, even during the US mortgage crisis: witness Marcelle Czerny’s recent article in the Globe and Mail on the quest for an affordable home in Toronto and her unwillingness to leave the city for the suburbs.