Why Canada’s job market hasn’t recovered
TheStar.com – Opinion/Commentary – New study by the Canadian Labour Congress highlights underemployment as the biggest challenge in the job market.
Mar 13 2014. By: Carol Goar, Star Columnist
On the first Friday of every month, Statistics Canada releases its Labour Force Survey, showing how many Canadians are unemployed and how many are working part-time and full-time.
What it doesn’t publish is the number who are underemployed — stuck in low-wage survival jobs, involuntarily working part-time, taking post-graduate courses because no jobs are available or working for free as interns.
The federal agency has the information. But it buries the details in a database few Canadian ever see. “Economists know where to look for it but most people don’t,” says Angella MacEwen, senior economist at the Canadian Labour Congress.
She wants the facts out in the open. Canadians need to understand underemployment, she argues: see how widespread it has become since the 2008-2009 recession; talk about how it is reshaping their lives and reducing their children’s expectations; and press their elected representatives for answers.
Her report, Underemployment is Canada’s Real Labour Market Challenge, was released by the CLC last week.
The nine-page document helps explain why the job market hasn’t recovered, why the official unemployment rate doesn’t reflect the malaise in the labour market, and why so many talented young Canadians are clinging to the margins of the workforce.
“Seventy-two per cent of net new jobs created between 2008 and 2013 fall into the precarious or underemployed category,” MacEwen says. “This is an issue that affects many more people than we had thought. The underemployment rate for 2013 was 14.2 per cent, double the headline unemployment rate of 7.1 per cent.”
CLC youth representative Amy Huziak used MacEwen’s report as the basis of her testimony to Parliament’s finance committee on March 6. “We are nearly five years past the end of the recession and there is still no recovery in sight for young people,” she told MPs. “I regularly hear from my peers about the many barriers we’re facing in the current labour market.”
The official youth unemployment rate is 13.9 per cent — double the national average, Huziak reminded parliamentarians. But if it included all the job seekers who have settled for precarious, low-wage work, the part-timers who can’t get enough hours to make a living, the graduates who have gone back to school because they couldn’t find work in their field, and the 150,000 to 300,000 interns working for no remuneration, the rate would shoot up to 27.7 per cent. For aboriginal youth and recently arrived immigrants, it would be close to 40 per cent.
This will permanently scar Canada’s next generation, she warned. Many young workers will never recover from their extended bout of underemployment; never reach the wage levels or standard of living they would otherwise have attained.
The CLC is asking for three changes:
- It wants Statistics Canada to report the underemployment rate in its monthly Labour Forces Survey, not bury it in a hard-to-find database. “It would be quite simple to do it right now,” MacEwen says. “It would help inform the public.”
- It wants the federal agency to do a better job of counting the underemployed. Too many Canadians — workers juggling multiple part-time jobs, stringing together short-term contracts or not getting paid — fall through the cracks because they don’t fit any of StatsCan’s “supplementary unemployment” categories.
- Most importantly, it wants the government to acknowledge that Canadians are hurting rather than insisting — as Finance Minister Jim Flaherty does in every budget — that Canada has recouped all the jobs it lost in the recession. “The jobs that have been recovered are disproportionately part-time and precarious,” MacEwen says. “Canada needs an employment strategy that supports the creation of better-paid and more secure jobs.”
The union has no power to make any of this happen. The federal Conservatives have no secret of their hostility toward organized labour. Employers have no interest in upgrading the quality of work. And most voters can’t pinpoint what’s wrong with the job market; they just know it hasn’t recovered and their kids are losing hope.
MacEwen’s aim is to help them make sense of the malaise, give them a voice and put pressure on policy-makers to fix the broken connection between a job and livelihood.
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