Fix low incomes among family class immigrants to help Canada’s economy: study

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OTTAWA — Chronic low income among so-called “family-class” immigrants is a concern that needs to be addressed not just for humanitarian reasons, but also to help sustain the Canadian economy, a new report from the Conference Board of Canada suggests.

As the country becomes more dependent on newcomers to fill labour needs, Canada should be looking to improve the labour market barriers and quality of life for newcomers, says the report released Tuesday.

“Low earnings and the prevalence of chronic low income among the family class are issues of concern that need to be addressed to help boost the living standards of immigrant families,” it says.

Doing so, it continues, would “help Canada benefit from their human capital in the labour market as it becomes more dependent on immigrant support for its economic growth.”

The study measures how the three classes of immigrants contribute to the economy and shows that while Canada has prioritized economic-class immigrants since the mid-1990s, family-class immigrants do more to boost retention rates and improve outcomes for immigrant families.

Newcomers to Canada through family reunification and private sponsorship programs earn significantly less on average than the average Canadian wage, but having family on hand to help with child care allows them to boost their household income by working longer hours.

Family reunification also promotes settlement and integration of immigrants into communities, which encourages better retention rates.

“This underscores the utility of family reunification to economic development policy, as it helps to stimulate demand within the economy and add workers to the labour supply,” says the report — especially key for Atlantic Canada, where family-class immigrants have been staying in larger numbers than their economic counterparts.

The findings emphasize the importance of viewing family-class immigrants through an economic policy lens, the board notes, given the fact Canada will continue to be dependent on a steady stream of new arrivals to maintain a sustainable level of economic growth.

Statistics Canada data shows the number of deaths in Canada is forecast to overcome the rate of births by 2034, meaning a shrinking workforce that not even the rapid advancement of automation will be able to absorb.

Shutting the doors to immigrants completely would likely lead to a smaller workforce, higher taxes and dwindling social services, the study found, while boosting immigration rates to one per cent of the population would result in modest growth.

“Immigration has been vital to Canada’s prosperity throughout the country’s history and is poised to play an even bigger role moving forward. Canada needs to remain proactive in its efforts to benefit from immigration,” the report concludes.

— Follow @ReporterTeresa on Twitter.

Teresa Wright, The Canadian Press

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