Here's the good news: Canadians love their jobs.
Here's the bad news: Canadians love their jobs.
Benjamin Tal and Nick Exarhos of CIBC World Markets argue in a new report that the Canadian labour market has defied the expectations of a few years ago. Back then, many prognosticators saw us moving toward a new economy in which workers would become free agents, moving fluidly between employers as demand dictated.
In fact, Canadians are staying at their jobs longer than ever before, with an unprecedented proportion of us reporting that we have been working for the same employer for more than five years. Rather than playing the field, we're showing an unexpected tendency to find a job and settle down with it.
It all sounds very idyllic – so long as you're not one of the long-term unemployed. In that case, you're left scrambling to find an opening in a job market where few current employees are budging.
While the CIBC report doesn't paint it in exactly these terms, the evidence it examines suggests that we are in a two-speed economy, with winners taking home solid pay increases and enjoying secure jobs, while those without the right skills are relegated to meagre raises and precarious employment prospects.
For Thomas Piketty and fellow students of economic inequality, this outcome may not come as a surprise. But for policy makers, it poses a puzzle without any easy solutions.
The jobs market has been lacklustre for more than a year, a situation that would ordinarily tilt authorities toward keeping interest rates low as a way to goad economic growth and encourage hiring. But many of the long-term unemployed may simply lack the skills that employers want – a problem that interest rates can't address.
The skills mismatch is revealed by looking at the odd state of an economy that has lots of job openings but also lots of jobless people, according to the CIBC economists.
Unemployment normally goes down as job vacancies go up. But over the past three years, the typical relationship has been turned on its head: Higher unemployment rates have occurred in tandem with higher levels of vacant jobs.
"A disconnect between the types of workers desired and those that are available in the ranks of the unemployed would explain how a growing number of unfilled vacancies could co-exist with a higher level of unemployed – and potentially unemployable – individuals," Mr. Tal and Mr. Exarhos write.
Adding to the quandary for decision makers is the rapid greying of the work force. The participation rate, which measures the percentage of the population in the labour force, is sliding as the number of candles on the typical birthday cake shoots upward. Demographics are "slowly clawing away at the employable base of Canadians," according to the CIBC report.
An aging, shrinking work force may be giving employers more motivation to hang on to the workers they have or snap up any qualified applicants who appear on the job market. It's encouraging to note, for instance, that the share of workers who have been unemployed for less than three months is close to record lows.
For highly paid workers, the picture is brighter still: They are consistently winning bigger wage increases than their less well compensated counterparts.
The problem is that the number of those who have been without a job for more than 27 weeks remains stubbornly high. These are the losers in a job market that has tended to lavish rewards on those with the right skills while delivering scant rewards to those in low-paid occupations or without the right training.
Mr. Tal and Mr. Exarhos suggest there's a silver lining here: While opportunities to break into the job market may be rarer because of employees' reluctance to give up their current positions, those who do land employment can look forward to more stable careers.
That's fair enough. But even better might be direct action to give long-term unemployed the skills they need to compete in an economy where the gap between haves and have-nots appears to be widening. That would give even more of us a chance to love our jobs.