On his recent visit to Ottawa, U.S. President Barack Obama praised Canada's diversity. His official greeter, Governor-General Michaëlle Jean, remarked on their shared African heritage.
But if Mr. Obama were to examine Canada's multicultural model more closely, he would find diversity within diversity, and uneven social mobility.
A new study by the Association for Canadian Studies shows that blacks and Hispanics occupy the bottom rung of the income ladder in both Canada and the United States, despite the different models for integration.
"There is a lot of praise for Canada's multicultural mosaic as superior to the U.S. melting pot," said Jack Jedwab, the association's executive director. "But the study shows that neither model substantially reduces economic inequities. Some groups do well, but in both countries blacks and Hispanics lag behind."
His study is based on Statistics Canada 2006 census data and U.S. census data from the same year.
In the United States, the median earnings of black men working full-time were 30 per cent less than for whites. In Canada, their median earnings were 29.5 per cent less than for whites.
For Hispanic men in the United States, the median earnings were 68 per cent less than for whites; in Canada, they earned 46 per cent less.
The study confirms other recent reports that have found that both these groups fare less well than whites and other visible minority groups. For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labour Statistics posted higher employment rates for Asians than for Hispanics and blacks in its release last week. And in Canada, South Asians and Chinese fare well across generations. Second-generation immigrants of Asian background are, in fact, among the highest-paid and best-educated members of Canadian society, according to two recent studies based on Statistics Canada data.
In contrast, Hispanics and blacks, who account for just 1 per cent and 2.5 per cent of the population respectively, do not necessarily improve their prospects over time, the same studies show. Most Hispanics and half of all blacks are born outside the country.
Experts point to several underlying reasons for the economic differences. While recently arrived immigrants from the Caribbean and Africa are fairly well educated, they experience more discrimination in Canada's labour market and their employment outcomes are worse.
Most Hispanics arrived in Canada as refugees, not immigrants, according to Myer Siemiatycki, a politics professor at Ryerson University in Toronto. They lack the language skills, education and job experience of other immigrant groups. And while Hispanics have slightly lower unemployment rates than blacks in both Canada and the United States, the jobs often are part-time or poorly paid, making it difficult to accrue wealth, experts say.
In the United States, many are undocumented workers from Mexico who take low-paid jobs in the service sector and send money to the families they have left behind.
"Many immigrants from Latin America are desperate to start working right [away]and have to send money home," agrees Mauricio Ospina, a business professional who immigrated to Toronto from Colombia nearly two decades ago.
Multiple part-time jobs can also mean little time to help their children succeed in school. "It's frustrating. We need to study Asians to figure out what they're doing better," said Mr. Ospina, who works in export development for the Ontario government. In an effort to highlight positive role models, he launched an annual award - Canada's 10 Most Influential Hispanics - in 2006, hoping to inspire Latin youth to aim high.
The difficulties blacks face in the United States relate more to race relations and historic discrimination, since 95 per cent were born in the country, Mr. Jedwab says.
For his part, Mr. Obama has pledged to hire more blacks and Hispanics for the federal civil service and to introduce programs to improve their lives. But he has also focused on the need for people to take greater personal responsibility.
Mr. Jedwab says his study reveals the limitations of both the multicultural mosaic and the melting pot, and highlights the need for new programs and directives to ensure all groups have a chance to achieve social mobility.