McGill’s James Torczyner, a professor at the School of Social Work, released an alarming report this month on the persistence of inequality between black and non-black communities in Montreal. The study found that the unemployment rate among university-educated black Montrealers was higher than that of non-black high school dropouts. Moreover, the average income for black people was also one-third lower than others in the city, and only one in three black people owned their own home. Torczyner sat down to talk with The Daily about the results of the study, the potential roots of the problem, and the importance of community-based action to reduce the disparities.
The McGill Daily: Could you tell us more about the study? And what were the results?
James Torczyner: The study was a follow-up study to one we did based on the 1996 census. That study showed a great deal of inequality experienced by members of the black community when compared to the non-black community. We decided to replicate that study and go a bit further…and to [see] how what we found out demographically is experienced by members of the black community specifically.
The results indicate that, while economic circumstances improved for everyone in the last 10 years, and they did so for blacks as well as non-blacks, the gap between blacks and non-blacks persists no matter how we looked at it: levels of educational attainment, higher unemployment rates, higher poverty rates, higher single-parent family rates, and less access to higher paid occupations. So for example, if we control for education or age or gender or linguistic ability or the occupation that they’re in, the disparities persisted.
MD: Are these findings what you expected when starting the study? What factors contribute to these disparities?
JT: Well, we wanted to see whether or not there had been particular changes in impact. Ten years is not a very long time period in terms of demographic trends. It’s also accompanied by the fact that the black community continues to grow at a remarkable pace; it grew by 38 per cent in 10 years and immigrants, newer arrivals, tend to have a more difficult time economically when they first get here. So, there are a lot of things that are in flux. What’s clear is that whatever the factors are that account for [the results], there is a very alarming, very widespread, very pervasive problem that needs to be addressed.
MD: There has been a lot of media coverage since the study’s release on March 18. In your experience could this attention change public policy to help reduce inequality? Is that the goal?
JT: My hope [as to] what will come out of this, and the reason why I’ve tried not to be in the forefront of these interviews, is that hopefully this can be a catalyst for the various black communities in the city. Often unilingual blacks can’t speak with other unilingual blacks. That affects about half of the community and they live in different parts of the city because of linguistic ability. All of these communities are distinct [but] the data shows there are some common issues and that is around quality. I think what is needed more than anything else is that those communities get together and harp out an agenda [so that they are] able to speak with one voice and have much more clout than they currently do. Because I think politicians listen when communities are well organized.
MD: So it comes down to community action?
JT: I think that without community action, whatever response there is to the study will probably be short lived. When you have problems that are this persistent in society, it really requires members of that community to advocate and to be important watchdogs to make sure the same rights of full citizenship are as accessible to blacks as they are to non-blacks.
MD: What would you expect to happen if this study was replicated again, say, 10 years from now? Would you expect anything to have changed?
JT: I’m a community organizer and a demographer, not a prophet. You ask me what will happen in the future. What will happen in the future will depend on what people do today.