By Carol Goar, The Toronto Star August 16, 2013 - For two solid years, Jim Flaherty has been insisting that all the jobs lost in the 2008-2009 recession are back. Even last week, as Statistics Canada reported an unexpected drop of 39,400 jobshe was bullish about the direction of the labour market. Private employers are still hiring, the finance minister pointed out brightly. (The public sector lost 74,000 jobs; the private sector gained 34,600.)
But Flaherty’s words — and the statistics he uses to back them up — don’t match what’s happening in workers’ lives. They haven’t recovered from the recession. They were hurled straight from the economic meltdown into a harsh new reality: a Canada of chronic job insecurity, uneven growth and deteriorating living standards.
To explain this paradox, Citizens for Public Justice, a faith-based social action organization, has produced a primer on labour market trends. It is one of the most sophisticated pieces of research to come out of the anti-poverty movement. It tracks the job market since 2008, tapping into data Statistics Canada doesn’t normally publish.
Some of this information is crucial to understanding the post-recession job market.
- Although the official jobless rate — 7.2 per cent — looks moderate, it would leap to 10.3 per cent if “discouraged workers” were included. These are people who have given up their job search, convinced they have no hope of finding work.
- They may well be right. As of April, there were six unemployed workers for every job vacancy.
- While the economy has added 950,000 jobs since the recession (more than replacing the 400,000 lost during the downturn), the population has grown by 1.8 million. As a result, 61.7 per cent of Canadians are employed today, compared to 63.8 per cent four years ago.
- Temporary, contract and casual work has grown at triple the rate of permanent employment since the recession.
- Part-time work has also climbed steadily. As of March 2013, a total of 3.3 million Canadians worked part-time — an increase of 93,000 over pre-recession levels. Men over 25 — society’s traditional breadwinners — are most heavily affected. They experienced a 23.2 per cent increase in part-time jobs, whereas women in the same age group — often regarded as secondary earners — experienced a 9.2 per cent increase.
- The duration of joblessness has risen since the recession. In 2008, the average job-seeker was out of work for 14.8 weeks. Today it is 20.2 weeks.
- And young people have been hammered repeatedly. Last month alone they lost 46,000 jobs; more than any other any group.
Officially their unemployment rate is 13.9 per cent, but it would jump to 19.8 per cent if discouraged workers were taken into account. There is one particularly worrisome subset, described by statisticians as NEET (not in education, employment or training). It now constitutes 13.3 per cent of jobless youth, an increase of 2 percentage points since the recession.
On the positive side, Citizens for Public Justice highlighted three developments.
Newfoundland and the three Prairie provinces have done relatively well.
The construction sector, health care and natural resources have performed strongly.
And the long-standing gap between immigrants and Canadian-born workers has narrowed.
But overall, there is more pain than progress in its 20-page report. The document does a good job of explaining why Flaherty’s upbeat rhetoric — “as job creators we have an enviable record” — is at odds with the perceptions of Canadians.
It does a less effective job of advocating relief. CPJ calls for “significant action to tackle labour market disparities and improve job quality.” But it does not identify any specific programs or policies. It argues that Canada has the “fiscal capacity to invest in well-designed measures to support employment that targets those most in need.” But it doesn’t fill in any of the details.
In fairness to the citizens’ group, governments, academics and think-tanks around the world are grappling with this problem — and they haven’t come up with many answers either. Everybody is struggling to prod the economy out of its malaise, free the billions of dollars locked in corporate coffers and restore the dignity of work.
What is clear — regardless of the numbers — is that Canadians are hurting. Until Flaherty acknowledges that, there can be no meaningful dialogue.
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