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Even before the 2008–2009 recession, Aboriginal people—North American Indian (or First Nations people), Métis and Inuit—had a harder time finding work and faced higher unemployment than non-Aboriginal people. The gap widened following the downturn, as Aboriginal people aged 15 and older (excluding those living on reserves or in the territories) experienced sharper declines in employment rates than non-Aboriginal people did.
In 2009, the average employment rate for Aboriginal people was 57.0%, compared with 61.8% for non-Aboriginal people. The gap in employment widened to 4.8 percentage points from 3.5 percentage points in 2008.
At the same time, the unemployment rate rose sharply for Aboriginal people, rising from 10.4% in 2008 to 13.9%. The rate for non-Aboriginal people rose from 6.0% to 8.1%.
Among Aboriginal people, the top employer of core-age workers (aged 25 to 54) in 2009 was the health and social assistance industry, followed by trade, construction and manufacturing. For non-Aboriginal people, trade was the top employer for core-age workers, followed by manufacturing, health care and social assistance, and professional, scientific and technical services.
In 2009, nearly 15% of employed core-age Aboriginal people worked in the health care and social assistance industry. Aboriginal employment in this industry increased by 12% or 4,000 jobs from 2008, outstripping the 2% increase in this industry among non-Aboriginal people.
Larger job losses among Aboriginal people
Canada's manufacturing industry posted the largest employment losses during 2009. Among non-Aboriginal manufacturing workers in the core-age group, employment declined by 8% or 14,000 jobs, with the bulk of the jobs lost in Ontario. At the same time, manufacturing employment among their Aboriginal counterparts fell by 30% or 7,000 jobs, with jobs mostly lost in the Western provinces.
In the construction industry, Aboriginal employment fell by 16% or 4,000 jobs, while it decreased by 5% or 45,000 jobs among non-Aboriginal workers.
Young workers hit by labour downturn
The labour market downturn had an especially large impact on young people (aged 15 to 24). From 2008 to 2009, the employment rate for Aboriginal youth (excluding those on reserves) fell by 6.8 percentage points, compared with a decline of 4.2 percentage points among non-Aboriginal youth. Both decreases were much larger than the employment losses experienced by core-age workers over this period.
In 2009, the employment rate was 45.1% for Aboriginal youth, whereas it was 55.6% for their non-Aboriginal counterparts.
While the period was a turbulent one in the labour market for youth and core-age adults, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people aged 55 and older were finding jobs, and so their employment rate increased slightly.
Core-age Aboriginal people in British Columbia and Alberta, two of the provinces hardest hit by the downturn, experienced more pronounced changes in their employment and unemployment rates than did their counterparts in other provinces.
In Alberta, the employment rate among core-age Aboriginal people fell from 75.1% in 2008 to 69.5% in 2009, more than double the drop seen among non-Aboriginal people. In British Columbia, the core-age employment rate among Aboriginal people fell to 65.1%, a drop of 5.6 percentage points and the lowest rate for Aboriginal people among all the provinces.
Education matters in the labour market
Educational attainment also played a role both before and during the downturn. Aboriginal people who had completed postsecondary education were not as affected: their employment rate declined to 79.4%, down 1.8 percentage points from 2008 to 2009. The employment rate for Aboriginal people with less than a high school diploma fell by 5.5 percentage points to 47.7%. Those with a high school diploma and some postsecondary education fared better, as their employment rate declined by 3.3 percentage points to 66.3%.
The employment rate among non-Aboriginal people with a completed postsecondary education was higher than that of their Aboriginal counterparts, but the decline in their employment rate was comparable at 1.5 percentage points.
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