Nasima Akter (Lead Researcher & Data Analyst)

Publication date:

Last Reviewed: 01-31-2014

Shadow Economies, Economic Survival Strategies of Toronto Immigrant Communities

Source: Wellesley Institute

This study looks at how newcomers survive poor labour market access, adverse working conditions, and the broader conditions that make them vulnerable to exploitation. It also looks at the resiliency of newcomers and how they may build new economic opportunities for themselves when conventional ones are denied.

This study is based on surveys conducted with 453 newcomer households in the east end of the former City of Toronto using an interval random sampling method, multilingual format, and extended in-person structured interviews. Respondents were asked about their employment history and that of those in their household. Respondents were also surveyed about their education level, language capacities, income sources, methods of accessing labour market information, knowledge of their workplace rights and comfort in exercising them, general health and participation in wider social networks. Five in-depth open-ended key informant interviews were also conducted to collect experiential data.The first part of our study looks at the employment and educational profile of the newcomers surveyed. The authors of the study explored parricipants' barriers to employment, current occupations and working conditions. The second part of the study examines the working conditions of newcomers across a range of formal and informal employment arrangements. Study findings confirmed that the workplace is frequently a site for exploitation, its consequences leading to further marginalization and economic deprivation. A high number of newcomers working in very poor, sub-standard jobs, sometimes unknowingly, and often without a viable alternative, especially where they worked for others. Newcomers regularly experience high levels of violations of employment standards. Bullying and harassment were also reported by a high number of employees. Yet, employees demonstrated a lack of knowledge about their employment rights and/or a reluctance to complain because of potential repercussions from such actions. In counter-balance, the third part of our study underscores the resiliency of some newcomers who turn to informal economic activities within the enclaves in which they may live or use other survival strategies as a creative response to their circumstances. Informal economic activities can provide the opportunity to channel the innovative force of newcomers when pathways to integration are blocked. These findings have interesting implications which can be incorporated into wider newcomer settlement strategies.

Link 1:

Region: Canada

Subject Group: Immigrants, Refugees, Families