Immigrants Create Jobs and Add Vitality to Our Communities

Recent data on unemployment provide compelling evidence about the impacts of immigration, and of raising the minimum wage.

Prince Edward Island is on a tear. It has been an enthusiastic and successful seeker of immigrants and its population has been the fastest growing in Canada. Housing is getting hard to find.

Builders are putting up new apartments and single-family homes as fast as they can. Stores and restaurants are busier. Unemployment decreased again in 2019 to 8.8% from 9.4% the year before. It was 10.4% in 2015.

Ontario, at the other end of the size spectrum, is also booming. They added 139,000 immigrants in the 12 months ending in June 2019, most of them in Toronto. Massive new condo developments are quickly filled, and new ones started. First time home buyers are having to look further and further afield to find something affordable.

Ontario’s employers have absorbed all those immigrants and more. The unemployment rate has dropped to a new low of 5.6% in 2019. That is even more surprising because Ontario experienced an abrupt rise in minimum wage rates during that period, the primary rate going from $11.40 to $14.00 in one year.

It has been argued in this space that minimum wages should move toward $15, but that the transition needs to be gradual so employers can adapt. Ontario’s experience suggests that it can be more rapid. In fact, it may need to be rapid so that new homemakers can afford their rents.

Nova Scotia fits the pattern. Last year was the best yet with 7,165 immigrants and a total population increase of 12,339 for the 12 months ending Sept. 30. Our unemployment rate is down to 7.2%, the lowest result in decades.

Residents and visitors to Halifax are amazed at the number of new apartment buildings completed and under construction. Yet the vacancy rate for apartments is down to 1%. There is no end in sight to the economic growth if we can sustain today’s level of immigration.

Immigrants create jobs.

An especially interesting and welcome development is the upsurge in international enrolment at Cape Breton University. As noted in this space recently, there are 2,400 more of them, mostly from India, than there were two years ago.

Their impact goes well beyond the considerable spending on local goods and services. They may have been eager to find jobs to help pay their bills. They are now to be found in stores, restaurants, and fish plants.

Louisbourg Seafoods is glad to have them helping on shifts, especially when things get hectic. The students have been supported by $1,000 bursaries from Team Seafood, funded by a partnership between the province and the industry. They made a big difference in 2019.

The impact of the students on the community is broader. This from a letter this week by Brian Joseph to The Cape Breton Post:

Sometimes we find ourselves unexpectedly at an event here at home in Cape Breton that just makes us shake our head in wonder and delight.

Such was the “Bollywood in Cape Breton” gathering at St. Theresa’s Hall in Sydney on Saturday evening. Some 40 Cape Breton University (CBU) students from India took up the challenge of teaching Bollywood dance steps to Cape Bretoners.

In return, we did our best to teach them dance moves from the “Mull River Shuffle” and the “YMCA” rock routine.

It was truly an amazing sight to see the dance floor packed with eager Cape Bretoners of all ages attempting to master Eastern dance steps …

The whole occasion was a very creative fundraiser to support the new homeless shelter being constructed in Sydney and proved a brilliant success.

What a tribute to Cape Breton’s ability to welcome newcomers to our community. And what a way to make these CBU students so far from home feel genuinely welcome and appreciated. It was an affair to remember. And one showing off Cape Breton at its very best.

Dr. Joseph might have added that it was a great tribute to the students’ efforts to help the community that has welcomed them.

This story is reflective of a movement in Nova Scotia. In 2013, those in favour of increasing immigration outnumbered those opposed by 28% to 24%, according to surveys by Narrative Research. The remainder preferred levels to stay the same or had no opinion. Immigration has grown rapidly since then but those in favour of more immigration in 2019 outnumber the opposed by 39% to 19%.

The more immigrants we get, the more we like it. We hear fewer complaints about “immigrants taking our jobs.”

It is curious to note that unemployment in Cape Breton, though going down as elsewhere, is still high at 13%. Yet those jobs filled by international students at stores, restaurants, and fish plants were going begging.

This suggests a failure in public policy. The difference in income between working and receiving government support may be too small.

We should move quickly on minimum wage. The $1 increase to $12.55 an hour announced this week is useful but not enough. We should aim for $15 by the beginning of 2022.

At the same time, we should look at the impact of unemployment insurance and welfare programs, and consider whether their design should be amended to provide greater incentive for people to work.

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