Record number on unemployment

TheGlobeandMail.com – Report on Business – Record number on unemployment: Statistics Canada says 778,700 are collecting jobless benefits

Jul. 28, 2009.

The number of Canadians collecting jobless benefits is climbing sharply, hitting record levels certain to stoke mounting controversy over the program.

In May, Statistics Canada said Tuesday, 778,700 people received regular benefits under the Employment Insurance program, up by 65,600 or 9.2 per cent from April.

It was the highest number since the federal agency began collecting such statistics in 1997.

The number of EI beneficiaries has jumped almost 56 per cent, or by more than 278,000, since employment in Canada peaked last October.

Alberta and Ontario showed the fastest rates of increase in May, Statistics Canada said.

The sharp rise surpassed the increase of 3.7 per cent in April.

“The good news is, recovery is at hand,” said Patricia Croft, chief economist at RBC Global Management. “The bad news is, employment tends to be a lagging indicator, and for many Canadians I think this isn’t going to feel like a recovery.”

Ms. Croft expects unemployment will continue to rise, hitting 10 per cent in the United States and at least 9 per cent in Canada.

Tuesday’s EI numbers, she said, “are a very cogent reminder that we still have some challenges ahead of us.”

The statistics are certain to raise the ire of those pushing for change to the employment insurance system, to make benefits more accessible to those thrown out of work during the recession. Critics say many more Canadians have been shut out from benefits.

Last spring, Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff threatened to vote against the government if it failed to meet demands for an overhaul. In the end, the Liberals and Conservatives agreed to set up a panel that would study the issue.

Tuesday’s numbers continue to show growing problems in Western Canada. Alberta, once Canada’s boom province, marked the largest percentage growth in beneficiaries over the seven months since employment peaked. Following Alberta were British Columbia, Ontario, Saskatchewan and Manitoba, each marking record levels.

In May alone, the number of claimants in Alberta, where the jobless rate has spiked to 6.6 per cent from 3.7 per cent seven months ago, surged 16.8 per cent. That was almost matched by Ontario, where the number of beneficiaries soared 16 per cent.

Quebec, Manitoba and the eastern provinces have, over the past seven month, posted increases below the national average of 55.6 per cent.

Statistics Canada cited hefty increases in Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria and southwestern Ontario, home to the battered auto industry. Some centres – such as Kelowna and Cranbrook, B.C., and Windsor and Guelph, Ont., have seen their numbers more than triple.

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