Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Labor Market Transitions of Immigrant-Born, Refugee-Born, and Canadian-Born Youth

Academic journal article Canadian Review of Sociology

Labor Market Transitions of Immigrant-Born, Refugee-Born, and Canadian-Born Youth

Article excerpt

WORK IS AN IMPORTANT ACTIVITY FOR the majority of youth in Canada. For many, employment is an integral part of their transition to adulthood and the responsibilities associated with becoming a productive and active citizen. Difficulties associated with transitions to the labor market experienced by Canadian-born youth are well documented and include problems with finding well-paid employment, high levels of unemployment, declines in wages, and attaining a reasonable standard of living (Betcherman and Lekie 1997). While there is recognition that the transition processes may differ by gender (Hughes and Lowe 1993; Geller 1996), socioeconomic status (Bellamy 1993), Aboriginal status (Gabor, Thibodeau, and Manychief 1996), and visible minority status (James 1993; Perron 1996), there are no systematic studies of the employment experiences or transitions of immigrant-born or refugee-born youth. This is an important omission, especially because a prevailing assumption of many immigration/ integration theories is that immigrant and refugee youth tend to have greater success in the labor market than their parents (Tsui and Sammons 1988; Hagan, Macmillan, and Wheaton 1996; Isajiw 1999). While this assumption may be true, the extent and characteristics of employment of immigrant and refugee youth is largely unknown.

Are there differences between immigrants and refugees? We do know that certain aspects of the integration experience are similar for these two groups. Both will experience the difficulties of settling into a new society, learning a new culture, and many will experience discrimination. However, we do know that there are subtle differences between the two groups. For instance, refugee youth are less likely to know English or French before their arrival. This affects their chances at succeeding in education and employment. The affect of trauma and past experiences is another aspect differentiating refugees from immigrants. Exactly how these experiences influence various aspects of resettlement is largely unknown.

This research attempts to address one gap in our knowledge by comparing the initial labor market experiences of immigrant-born, refugee-born, and Canadian-born youth. Two fundamental questions are addressed. First, what are the factors influencing the participation in employment of immigrant-born and refugee-born youth and are they similar to the factors that have been identified for Canadian-born youth? Second, can the traditional school-to-work transitions model adequately explain the variance in employment status among refugee-born and immigrant-born youth, or is the integration model better?

While much is known of the arrival experiences of immigrant and refugee youth, little is known of their lives in Canada as adults. The examination of initial labor market experiences is a crucial aspect in understanding their transition from youth to adulthood. The few researchers investigating life course transitions among immigrant, refugee, and/or second-generation youth in the United States find that there are extreme variations in the successful integration into school (Zhou and Bankston 2000) and occupational aspirations (Rumbaut 1992) among Southeast Asian youth, but their research is based on small sample sizes, selected ethnocultural groups, and largely on youth living in large cities. None have given a broad national perspective on labor market experiences, unlike the research conducted on American-born and Canadian-born youth. Furthermore, much emphasis has been placed on second-generation youth, the children born of immigrant and refugee parents, while very little research has directly examined the experiences of those arriving as children or young adults (Quigley 1996; Ahearn, Loughry, and Ager 1999) and even less research has been conducted in Canada (Derwing et al. 1999; Wilkinson 2001; Shields, Rahi, and Scholtz 2006).

Before proceeding, it is important to note the distinctions between immigrant-born, refugee-born, and Canadian-born youth. …

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