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Anil Arora is the Chief Statistician of Canada.

Providing Canadians and decision makers with real-time, high-quality social and economic data has always been important. Now, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that’s more true than ever before.

I am proud of the way that Statistics Canada was able to quickly adapt and respond to support Canadians during this crisis. Our work has helped – and continues to help – our different levels of governments and so many private and not-for-profit organizations make a difference to enable Canadians to better weather this storm.

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But while high-quality data will be crucial for understanding the impact of the pandemic so we can build back better moving forward, looking at it through a single lens may hinder the progress being made toward socioeconomic diversity and inclusion.

Canadians have felt those effects in diverse ways. This unsettling year has uncovered inequalities faced by marginalized groups across the country – and while these inequalities are not new, the data we’ve gathered found that the inequalities have certainly been amplified and have brought to light an ever-increasing socioeconomic gap between racialized and non-racialized Canadians.

Prior to the pandemic, our data showed significant progress was being made toward levelling the uneven economic playing field, which was in part driven by strong labour market conditions that in turn supported inclusive economic growth. We saw a substantial decrease in poverty rates, down from 14.5 per cent in 2015 to 11 per cent in 2018, as well as rapidly rising employment rates among working-age immigrant women, up by 4.2 per cent in 2019, over four years.

But COVID-19 has been a dramatic setback for this momentum. A few months into the pandemic, the unemployment rate had already increased more dramatically for the five largest groups designated as visible minorities – including Black and Southeast Asian Canadians – than for non-visible-minorities. Similarly, businesses owned by visible minorities were more likely to have experienced significant revenue losses, with about one-quarter of them seeing year-over-year revenue drops of 40 per cent or more.

The accommodation and food services industry, one of the hardest hit by public-safety measures, has seen some of the harshest decreases in employment rates, at 25 per cent less than prepandemic employment rates. This has been disproportionately borne by members of visible minority communities who work in this industry.

By December of last year, one in three members belonging to an ethnocultural group faced financial struggles, compared to one in five Canadians not belonging to a visible minority group. These racial disparities, not unique to the pandemic, have only reinforced the importance of looking at data from varying lenses, as well as working to close the significant gaps in our ability to disaggregate data to measure those inequalities and track the progress being made to address them.

While Statistics Canada has a long history of telling the story of Canadian diversity through the Census of Population, there were and continue to be significant gaps in disaggregated data for some of our basic economic indicators. Before July, 2020, monthly employment data did not include the important breakdowns by ethnocultural groups. And while we strive to close those gaps, the reality is that limited sample sizes are preventing us from having a clear picture of employment rates across racialized population groups.

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Just as data can inform us about the many economic challenges facing racialized populations, Indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities and other marginalized groups, they can also inform us of opportunities, and the resources that we can draw on to seize them going forward.

For instance, immigration has been one the strongest driving forces of our economy. More immigrants than Canadian-born people had a bachelor’s degree in 2016, and twice as many were educated in a science, technology, engineering or mathematics (STEM) field. For years now, immigration has supported Canada’s active population growth, creating a more diverse, innovative and well-educated working force. And yet, because of COVID-19, Canada has welcomed 61 per cent fewer immigrants in 2020, as compared with 2019.

A wide range of currently available economic and social indicators paint a clear and consistent picture of the economic inclusion of racialized populations. Whether we look at the employment of individuals, the revenue of businesses, or differences in the impact of COVID-19 across sectors, a deeper dive beyond top-level findings reveals real racial disparities in the challenges facing Canadians. At the same time, data on immigration and research on business innovation remind us that the skills and resilience of diverse groups will be essential.

Our ability to build back better depends on having the timely information required to monitor socioeconomic progress among diverse groups and to quickly identify trends and issues as they emerge. Statistics Canada is committed to engaging with private and non-profit initiatives and groups, as well as various ethnocultural communities, in making this a reality. Just as crucially, we will continue to take a whole-of-government approach and work with federal partners to access existing data and better integrate disaggregated data collection systems, while maintaining strong privacy and confidentiality protections.

Data collection, after all, is a team sport. We at Statistics Canada look forward to increased collaboration and partnerships to ensure we all have the information we need to make decisions that benefit us all.

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