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The fast-growing newcomer and indigenous youth population Manitoba is relying on for economic growth needs help removing the barriers of racism and poverty, a researcher says.

Their experiences are written about by Keely Ten Fingers in State of the Inner City Report 2015: Drawing on Our Strengths. The graduate student conducted research with young indigenous and newcomer adults in the inner city for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives' annual report released today.

Alice McKay with one of her four children. McKay says years ago, she experienced a humiliating racist incident on the job.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Alice McKay with one of her four children. McKay says years ago, she experienced a humiliating racist incident on the job.

Her research found more needs to be done to prepare them to successfully transition into good jobs. Mainstream programs aren't helping them because they don't address the root problems of poverty, marginalization and racism.

"Indigenous people and newcomers are very different, but both are more at risk of living below the poverty line," said CCPA director Molly McCracken.

"Many things need to be in place to enable any paid work, not to mention a good job -- things like access to education, child care and transport." She said specialized programs and services can help "these ambitious young people with complex challenges."

Some of those specialized programs have been cut back or eliminated, said Ten Fingers, who wrote Indigenous and Newcomer Young People's Experience of Employment and Unemployment in today's report. Her research is based on focus-group interviews with 45 indigenous and newcomer participants whose average age was 20. Eight were raising children. Eight said they were earning an income. Twenty were in school; 18 said they were unemployed. Nearly half had finished Grade 12, and a quarter were studying to get their Grade 12; a handful were in English-language classes and another handful had post-secondary degrees. The one thing they had in common was racism. As an indigenous woman, Ten Fingers said she wasn't surprised by that.

"My experience of marginalization is that you're not afforded the same opportunities because of incorrect assumptions about your ability, your skills and your intellect and your ability to contribute," she said. "To see that it is such a significant part of the jobsearch experience and the employment experience was a bit disturbing."

Employers often don't respond to their resumés, and when they do, they're rejected as soon as the employer lays eyes on them, some participants cited in her report said. "I was making cold calls looking for work and scored an appointment. When I got there, (the employer) didn't want to see me," said one.

If they do get hired, they are expected to brush off racist remarks in the workplace -- and worse. Another participant who was the only aboriginal at a cleaning company was singled out and humiliated when cash went missing.

"My boss took it upon herself to search me entirely, going as far as emptying my bra and everything, and my white co-worker didn't receive the same treatment," said the young woman in the report, who was 20 at the time and didn't seek any recourse.

"I found it very degrading, very insulting," said Alice McKay, who is now 29. "My co-worker was standing there watching; the boss was standing there watching," she said in an interview.

'Indigenous people and newcomers are very different, but both are more at risk of living below the poverty line. Many things need to be in place to enable any paid work, not to mention a good job ‐ things like access to education, child care and transport'‐ Molly McCracken, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Her boss didn't apologize when the search revealed she wasn't the thief. She quit after that shift, she said.

"It was very discouraging, and it was embarrassing," said McKay, who grew up in foster care and as the only "native" in her French Catholic town was tormented mercilessly in school. "How do you tell future employers when they ask about the different places you've worked and why you left those places? How do you tell potential employers, 'I never went back to work there because they accused me of stealing?' "

Poverty was an issue for getting and keeping a job. Basic needs such as food, housing, access to child care and transportation need to be met.

"When I transition into work, it's always difficult to feed myself... I go to work and I'm hungry for eight hours... You can't focus on the job you're doing," said one young parent. For another, it was the lack of affordable child care. "Where are you going to leave your child? I don't want to risk CFS being called in."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Carol Sanders

Carol Sanders
Legislature reporter

After 20 years of reporting on the growing diversity of people calling Manitoba home, Carol moved to the legislature bureau in early 2020.

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