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Why there's little to cheer in the jobs numbers

Miles Corak is a professor of economics with the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. The full version of this post is available at

This morning Statistics Canada released -- as it does on the first Friday of every month -- estimates of employment and unemployment for the previous month.

As usual, the headline number is the change in the number of employed, and the agency's press release announces that " Following two months of declines, employment rose slightly in December, up 18,000."

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But this masks as much as it reveals.

With today's numbers the picture for 2011 is complete, and Statistics Canada is inviting a medium term look at some other facts that aren't always highlighted and, in a couple of cases, missing.

1. Employment growth has only just kept up with the population, and in this sense has yet to recover from the recession

The economy recovered all the jobs lost during the recession at the beginning of last year, and at that point began to push beyond the peak of 17.2 million reached in October, 2008, before things turned south. By the end of the year not quite 17.4 million Canadians held a job.

But all the employment growth since the low reached in the summer of 2009 has only kept up with the population, the fraction of Canadians working has hardly changed at all.

Here is the graph that traditionally leads the Statistics Canada press release:

But here are the same numbers expressed as a fraction of the working age population:

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2. The situation for young people is not much better than two years ago, during the depth of the recession

Employment has not recovered for everyone.

Canadians in their prime working years (the 25 to 54 year olds) have just barely rounded the corner, but most importantly the situation for the young has not improved at all.

A quarter of a million 15 to 24 year olds lost their jobs between September, 2008 and August, 2009, but by the end of 2011 only about 15,000 were recovered.

All the job growth during the economic recovery has gone to those 55 years of age and older. Paradoxically this is also likely a sign of hardship, reflecting the need to work longer and postpone retirement decisions because of the havoc wrecked on savings and pensions by the financial meltdown.

3. Two missing facts

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While Statistics Canada doesn't highlight the youth employment numbers, it does not even publish the numbers for immigrants. You have to ask for it.

The immigrant unemployment rate was well above the national average the last time I asked, and I suspect that employment has not improved much since the recovery began.

Furthermore, it should always be remembered that today's unemployment figures have nothing to do with the number of Canadians collecting Employment Insurance benefits, referring only to whether an individual is actively looking for a job.

At the onset of the recession the government made Employment Insurance benefits more generous, a decision that was important in supporting laid off workers. But this moment has passed, and besides only a small fraction of the unemployed receive benefits.

Statistics Canada knows the number of beneficiaries, but never presents it alongside the number of unemployed. It takes an extra effort to realize that there are two-and-a-half times more unemployed individuals than there are EI beneficiaries: last October 1.37 million Canadians were unemployed, but only 541,200 received benefits.

Jobs are not forthcoming; nor is financial support.

<iframe src="" scrolling="no" height="650px" width="460px" frameBorder ="0" allowTransparency="true" ><a href="" >Economist Avery Shenfeld answers your questions</a></iframe>

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About the Author
Professor of economics

Miles Corak is a professor of economics with the Graduate School of Public and International Affairs at the University of Ottawa. More

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