Ranks of people exhausting EI grow

TheGlobeandMail.com – ROB – Ranks of people exhausting EI grow: Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, Statistics Canada aim to provide ‘more timely information’
Published on Wednesday, Nov. 04, 2009.  Tavia Grant

The number of people exhausting their jobless benefits is rising in line with large volume of claims, the federal government says.

It’s the first official indication of current trends in exhaustion rates of employment insurance beneficiaries, a measure that is regularly tracked in the United States but not in Canada.

Human Resources and Skills Development Canada also said it is teaming up with Statistics Canada to explore ways to provide “more timely information” about the rate at which EI benefits are exhausted, a move Statistics Canada confirmed. Economists have said this data would give an important indication on the health of the labour market and the degree to which people may be needing social assistance.

In an e-mail statement yesterday, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada confirmed more people are running out of EI benefits without finding work.

“While we do not have definitive data on the exhaustion rate, experience is showing that the number of exhaustees is rising in line with the volume of claims,” HRSDC said.

Word that exhaustion rates will now be tracked was welcome to Bill Ross, a former IT director who saw his benefits expire three weeks ago. Mr. Ross, who lives in Liverpool, N.S., has been searching for work over the past year. Now that his benefits have run out, he’s dipping into savings.

“If the government is interested in doing any kind of programs for people like me, they’ve got to know people like me exist. And if we’re not in the numbers, how is that going to be put forward in any kind of budget?” he said.

Economists too, applauded the move. Regularly disclosing the rate at which people are running out of benefits “is a very positive development,” said Grant Bishop, economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank. “The more information there is available, the better agencies can plan and co-ordinate resources.”

As of August, more than 763,000 people were receiving regular jobless benefits, a 53-per-cent increase since the labour market peaked last October.

The latest numbers, however, showed a 2.4-per-cent drop in the number of people receiving regular claims month over month in July. The headline number appeared to be good news as the labour market stabilizes. But Statistics Canada analysts attribute part of the drop to benefit expiration.

The duration of EI benefits varies widely. In Quebec City and Regina, payouts can be as short as 19 weeks. In Charlottetown and Windsor, Ont., by contrast, benefits last as long as 50 weeks.

Over the past decade, between 28 and 32 per cent of EI regular claimants typically exhausted their benefit entitlements. That percentage could well be higher this year as the economy limps out of recession, experts say.

The U.S. Department of Labour, which publishes exhaustion rates monthly on its website, shows many more Americans are running out of unemployment insurance benefits. The U.S. exhaustion rate has jumped to 52.4 per cent in September from 39 per cent a year ago.

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