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Canada needs temporary unemployment assistance: think tank

Hundreds line up for various booths at the National Job Fair and Training Expo at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, 2012.

J.P. Moczulski for The Globe and Mail/j.p. moczulski The Globe and Mail

Young workers, women, immigrants and urban dwellers are chronic losers in Canada's Employment Insurance regime.

They're less likely to get EI when they're out of work, and those that do, must work much harder to earn it.

A new report being released Tuesday by the University of Toronto's Mowat Centre public policy think tank says the solution is a new system of temporary unemployment assistance, or TUA.

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"TUA would begin to reduce the regional disparities and urban-rural divide that have become defining aspects of Canada's approach to supporting it's unemployed," said author Mary Davis.

Offering repayable temporary benefits would cost $1-billion in the first year, but less in subsequent years, the report estimates.

"This is a relatively small cost considering that TUA should fill major holes in the federal social safety net," according to the report.

The main problem with the current system, Ms. Davis argued, is that EI is geared to seasonally unemployed workers or stable, full-time workers who experience short bouts of unemployment.

Unfortunately, that's not the experience for millions of workers in the expanding service economy, which accounts for roughly 70 per cent of gross domestic product. It's virtually impossible for so-called "non-standard" workers – the self-employed, temporary contract workers, multiple job holders and new workers with scant job histories – to get EI.

These workers are more likely to be urban, women, youth, and new immigrants, the report found.

In the last recession, for example, fewer than half of Canada's unemployed had access to EI benefits, the report points out.

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Ms. Davis said Canada's labour market has dramatically changed since EI was designed. The vast majority of workers are employed in the service sector and live in cities. EI isn't designed to help them. Nor is social assistance.

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About the Author
National Business Correspondent

Barrie McKenna is correspondent and columnist in The Globe and Mail's Ottawa bureau. From 1997 until 2010, he covered Washington from The Globe's bureau in the U.S. capital. During his U.S. posting, he traveled widely, filing stories from more than 30 states. Mr. McKenna has also been a frequent visitor to Japan and South Korea on reporting assignments. More

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