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Is Canada becoming a ‘part-time’ nation – the value of LMI

Most of the jobs added to the Canadian labour market in 2014 were part-time – prompting headlines such as “Experts fret Canada becoming a nation of part-time workers“.

Are we really a part-time nation? Well, 80% of workers in Canada are full-time, and a large majority of part-time workers choose to work part-time hours. So, no, we are not at the verge of some part-time workopolypse. But the labour market has been changing, driven partly by demographics (aging) and women entering the labour force.

Between 1976 and 2013, the number of core-age women working part-time jobs more than doubled – but the proportion of those women working part-time actually fell.


Source: CANSIM 282-0002

In the early 1980′s about one in four (25%) working women between 25 and 54 held a part-time job. By the mid-2000′s that number had dropped to one in five (20%). This means that as women entered the workforce in huge numbers, it became more common for them to hold full-time jobs as well.

A breakdown of part-time workers by age yields some interesting findings as well. When people think of part-time workers, they overwhelmingly picture pimply teenagers. But over time that has been less and less true.

Source: CANSIM 282-0002

Source: CANSIM 282-0002

In 1976, more than 30% of part-time workers were between 15 and 19 years of age. Now they make up less than 20% of the part time work force.

At the other end of the age spectrum, workers between 50 and 65 used to comprise only 10% of all part-time workers, and now make up more than 20%. As older workers need to stay in the labour force longer in order to supplement failing (or absent) pensions, this trend will likely increase.

All of this sparks a larger question: Why should we care about the number or proportion of part-time workers anyway?

Labour economists dissect the details of the monthly Labour Force Survey with the intensity of wild animals who have landed a fresh kill. We’re hungry for data and answers, and search endlessly for the crosstab that will give us a fresh perspective on what’s happening in people’s lives across the country.

We care about the number of jobs, the quality of jobs, and the wages of jobs, because we care about the well-being of workers and their families. Under our current economic system, jobs are the main way that we distribute wealth – so it matters, a lot.

Very often the Labour Force Survey doesn’t have the answers. But it gives us a place to start asking questions.

Revised LFS Numbers Don’t Change the Big Picture

What a rough week it’s been over at Statistics Canada.  It’s a world-renowned statistical agency — though its lustre has been tarnished in recent years by budget cuts, cancelled data programs and series, and the nonsense of the Harper government’s libertarian crusade against the long form census.  The problems this week around its Labour Force Survey report for July will certainly contribute to the sense of entropy surrounding this important and valuable institution.

The biggest change in the numbers is that full-time employment is now estimated to have declined by about 20,000, instead of the original 60,000.  Not exactly something to boast about.  60,000 part-time jobs were created (same as the original report).  The unemployment rate is the same as the original report — and exactly the same as 18 months ago.  The participation rate is unchanged from June: higher than in the original report, but still stuck at its lowest level since 2001.

I published a Globe and Mail commentary on Canada’s stagnant labour market based in part on the original LFS report.  Today’s revised numbers do not materially change the argument I made there, which is that Canada’s much-vaunted economic recovery was over-rated in the first place, and in fact ran out of steam a long time ago.  There has been no sustained labour market progress for over three years.  The employment rate is languishing just a hair above its level in June 2009 — the trough of the recession.  That means job-creation since the trough of the recession has only just kept up with growth in the working-age population (ageing demographics is part of that story, too, on top of poor job-creation).

And the revised LFS numbers still confirm a growing contrast between the accelerating U.S. recovery and the stagnation and “serial disappointment” (Stepehn Poloz’s catchy phrase) of Canada’s trajectory.  In the last year the U.S. economy created 2.3 million full-time jobs; Canada’s created barely any (with the smaller-than-originally-reported loss of full-time employment in July, the year-over-year change is now positive but miniscule).  The U.S. unemployment rate has dropped 1.7 points since January 2013.  Canada’s hasn’t budged.  The stark difference in macro policy stance between the two countries is clearly an important factor behind this take of two recoveries: American policy is emphasizing job-creation, and mobilizes conventional and unconventional levers to get there, while Canadian policy is dominated by orthodox concern with balancing the budget.

In short, I think Canada’s relative underperormance since 2011 will become increasingly damaging to the Harper government, given how much it has invested in its reputation (deserved or not) as the “best economic managers.”

Debunking Fraser Institute’s latest contortion on taxes

The Fraser Institute’s annual Consumer Tax Index report generated some media buzz with its outlandish claims about just how much taxes have risen since 1961. Before you get worked up about this, consider that 1961 was over half a century ago, before the time of universal health care that we all benefit from, before the Canada Pension Plan and the Guaranteed Income Supplement that hugely reduced poverty for seniors, before the Canada Child Tax Benefit which is helping lower child poverty (though not enough!). Read more »

Declining pensions and bargaining power

[Cross-posted on my blog here.]

It’s relatively common knowledge that employer-run pensions have been scaled back over the past few decades. I’ve decided to dig up some data on pensions for this post to see just how this has taken place in Canada, motivated by a recently-released analysis of US pension reform that finds contradictions in how US workers have come to take on more and more of the risk for their retirement income.

First, a bit of background. There are two main kinds of employer-administered pension funds: defined benefit (DB) plans – where retirees receive a set monthly income, or defined benefit – and defined contribution (DC) plans – where retirees receive a variable monthly income dependent on how much they proportionately contributed to the pension plan and how this money was invested. There are also completely individualized retirement savings plans such as the RRSP, but these are essentially individuals investment accounts given preferential tax treatment. However, the link between RRSPs and DC plans is that they generally place investment risk on workers themselves; if whatever financial instrument the money is invested in suffers, retirement income also suffers.

While some employers have eliminated pensions altogether, many have restructured their pension plans. Here’s the Canadian data on registered pension plan membership, plotted as a percentage of employment:

Figure 1. Registered pension plan coverage as a percentage of employment by type of plan (Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM 280-0008 and 282-0008).

Figure 1. Registered pension plan coverage as a percentage of employment by type of plan (Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM 280-0008 and 282-0008).

Read more »

Is r>g in Canada?

Here is a little bit of rainy day economic doodling that may be of interest.

Piketty famously argues that there is a tendency for r – the rate of return on capital- to exceed g- the rate of growth of income. If r>g, wealth and income inequality will grow inexorably since ownership of capital and claims on income from capital are highly concentrated in a few hands.

Piketty’s definition of capital is very broad, and boils down to wealth, including housing and financial assets.

I am not at all sure that house prices must or do increase at a faster rate than nominal incomes. Though they certainly have done so for the past decade or so, I would see this as unsustainable

As for the rate of return on financial assets, it does seem to be true that r has been greater than g for the past twenty years.

Nominal GDP growth (g) for 1989-1999 averaged 4.1%;  for  2000-2008 it averaged 5.7%. (I leave out the recent recession, weak recovery,)

The risk-free return on capital proxied by the 10 year Government of Canada bond rate (January number) averaged 7.8% 1989 to 1999, due to high interest rates in the early to mid 1990s. However, it fell to an average of 4.8%, 2000-08. This was below the average nominal growth rate.

The average annual rate of return on capital employed (as equity and debt) in the business sector as reported by Statistics Canada was 6.2% from 1989 to 1999, rising to 6.9% from 2000 to 2008 – a rate of return comfortably greater than g.

(Data from Cansim 187-0002. I used Q1 numbers for each year)

Today, interest rates are very low compared to the nominal growth rate, but returns to capital in the business sector remain well above g.

So recent Canadian experience seems to broadly support the Piketty thesis.






Free Traders Panic Over German Challenge to Investor-State Dispute-Settlement

In my many years documenting and critiquing the overblown claims of free trade proponents about the supposedly self-regulating efficiency-promoting mutually-benefiting effects of globalization, I’ve encountered some real doozies.  Read more »

New Issue of Review of Keynesian Economics

A guest blog post from Louis-Philippe Rochon:

Dear friends and colleagues,

The new issue of the Review of Keynesian Economics (ROKE) is now out, and you can find it here. It features an interesting symposium on ‘Steve Keen and his critics’, and contains not only a paper by Steve Keen, but replies by Marc Lavoie, Tom Palley, and Brett Fiebiger. The Keen and Lavoie papers are available free for downloading.

Here is the full Table of Content. Enjoy.

Louis-Philippe Rochon
Founding Co-Editor


Mini-Symposium: Endogenous Money and Effective Demand

Endogenous Money and Effective Demand
Steve Keen

Keen and the “Walras-Schumpeter-Minsky Law”: Financial Intermediation and
the Distribution of National Income also Matter to Macroeconomics
Brett Fiebiger

Effective demand, endogenous money, and debt: a Keynesian critique of Keen
and an alternative theoretical framework
Thomas I. Palley

A comment on endogenous money and aggregate demand: a revolution or a step
Marc Lavoie


The Political Economy of Public Investment and Public Finance: Challenges
for Social Democratic Policies
Jamee K. Moudud and Francisco Martinez- Hernandez

Political Contest, Policy Control, and Inequality in the United States
Mark Stelzner

A New Interpretation of Kaldor’s First Growth Law for Open Developing
Penélope Pacheco-López and A. P. Thirlwall


Horizontalists, verticalists, and structuralists: the theory of endogenous
money reassessed’, Review of Keynesian Economics, 1 (4), 406-424 (2013)
Thomas I. Palley

Book reviews

Obama’s Economy: Recovery for the Few
by Jack Rasmus
London: Pluto Press 2012. 216 pp.
Reviewed by John Hall.

Central Banks and Financial Markets: The Declining Power of US MonetaryPolicy
By Hasan Cömert
Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing 2013. 207pp.
Reviewed by Joshua Wojnilower

Against Utility-Based Economics: On a Life-Based Approach
By Anastosios Korkotsides
Oxon and New York: Routledge. 2013. 272 pp.
Reviewed by Philip Pilkington

EI Needs To Increase Access Not Lower Premiums

Erin does a nice job of documenting the fact that the number of EI recipients is falling, despite the fact that unemployment is rising.

But it seems to me that the crisis in EI is forever falling on deaf ears. Even though only 37.5% of unemployed workers are receiving EI, pundits and politicians feel that the problem with EI is not access, but high premiums. Improving access is usually not even presented as an option. If there’s a surplus in the EI Account, it must be that there is too much revenue, full stop.

Recent case in point. The Mowat Centre agrees with my assessment that the federal budget surplus is coming out of the annual EI surplus. But, they frame this in terms of premiums that are too high, ignoring the abysmally low proportion of unemployed workers that are receiving EI.

The difference is not a subtle one. In one case, the government is balancing the budget on the backs of unemployed workers by denying them benefits, and in the other case they are doing it on the backs of employers and employees (i.e. current contributors).

In the past year, the number of EI recipients has fallen 4x faster than the number of unemployed workers. That is, the number of unemployed workers fell by only 3,000 at the same time as the number of EI recipients fell by 12,000. The trend over the past five years is shown in the graph below. (Source for unemployment: CANSIM 282-0087, Source for Regular EI recipients: CANSIM 276-0022)

EI Benefits

The red line is the number of EI recipients, and goes with the numbers on the left axis. The blue line is the number of unemployed workers, and goes with the numbers on the right axis.

Since May 2009, the number of unemployed workers has only fallen by 210,000 – or about 14% (so much for those million jobs Stephen Harper single-handedly created). The number of EI recipients has fallen by 300,000 – about 38% of the May 2009 amount. This shows up clearly on the graph above – proportionately, the number of EI recipients has fallen at two and half times the rate of unemployment.

While Federal Government program cuts, staffing cuts, and changes to appeals systems have made EI far stingier, simply reversing them doesn’t solve the problem. Labour market dynamics have evolved significantly even over the past 20 years or so. For example, in 1992, about 25% of unemployed workers were new entrants or re-entrants to the labour market. By 2012, that had risen to 45%. (Chart shows 12 month moving average, Source: CANSIM 282-0214).


In order to access EI, new labour market entrants and those that have not contributed to EI in the past two years must rack up at least 910 EI insurable hours in order to qualify for benefits or training supports. This is a giant barrier to a group of people who are most likely to make use of training and other supports offered through EI Part II.

Another issue is regional differences. Temporary and precarious urban workers (who are often racialized) face a much higher bar to entry than workers in regions with high unemployment rates. Urban workers often face many more barriers to secure employment than the regional unemployment rate conveys.

The only fair solution is a single national entrance requirement. A bar of 360 hours is equivalent to 30 hours per week for 12 weeks, which gets you in the door and able to access training benefits *if you lost your job through no fault of your own*.

The alternative is a deeply cynical one. If we say that premiums are too high, and current EI contributors are the victims of the government’s greedy tax grab, we’re also saying that it’s perfectly OK that only 37.5% of unemployed workers are receiving EI. We’re saying that it’s perfectly justifiable that the number of EI recipients are falling while the number of unemployed workers are increasing. We’re saying that it’s OK that EI access and EI training supports are out of reach for most of the 500,000 unemployed labour market entrants and re-entrants.

It’s not OK. No one who takes a minute to think of the people who are falling through the cracks could say that it even approaches OK. Stealing from the unemployed to deliver a balanced budget before the next election is pretty much the opposite of OK.

EI Falls as Unemployment Rises

Statistics Canada reported today that the number of people receiving Employment Insurance (EI) benefits fell by 12,070 in May – the largest drop in nearly two years. (The last time Statistics Canada records indicate a larger decrease was 12,670 in July 2012.)

This substantial decline in EI benefits comes as unemployment is rising. The Labour Force Survey indicates that unemployment increased by 15,200 in May and by a further 25,700 in June.

Overall, only 37.5% of unemployed Canadians received EI benefits in May (i.e. 504,080 out of 1,343,800).

The fact that fewer Canadians can access benefits even as more are unemployed likely reflects the Conservative government’s cuts to the EI system. The federal government should instead improve the accessibility and duration of benefits for workers who paid into the program and are unemployed through no fault of their own.

Financial Risk and Alberta’s Tar Sands

When it comes to global warming, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that what matters is the total volume of greenhouse gas emissions going forward. This amounts to about 30 years of emissions at current levels – a global carbon budget that would provide the world a 66% chance of staying below 2°C. There is some debate about whether an upper limit of 2°C is itself too high – it poses unacceptable and catastrophic consequences for the most vulnerable countries – but nonetheless the 2°C target has been adopted in international negotiations towards a new treaty to address climate change.

Carbon budgeting is a fairly new way of conceptualizing the economic and public policy challenges associated with climate change. It restates a classic economic problem – how to allocate resources subject to a budget constraint – in the context of climate and energy policy research. A key implication that between two-thirds and four-fifths of the world’s proven fossil fuel reserves need to stay underground, forever.

This was confirmed by a recent report to the UN on Deep Decarbonization Pathways, which found that proven reserves of fossil fuels represented potential CO2 emissions some 3-7 times larger than the world’s carbon budget. And if we look more broadly at proven plus probable reserves (what they call “resources”), potential emissions are something like 35-60 times larger than the global carbon budget. The conclusion is inescapable: there are vast amounts of “unburnable carbon” out there.

The UK outfit Carbon Tracker was the first to point out this means we are seeing a “carbon bubble” in our financial markets – that  fossil fuel companies, whose business model is the extraction of carbon, are over-valued on the stock markets of the world. This analysis was subsequently picked up by Bill McKibben in his now-famous article, “Global Warming’s Terrifying Math,” which launched the fossil fuel divestment movement, plus some local content by yours truly in a CCPA report called Canada’s Carbon Liabilities.

The latest from Carbon Tracker looks at planned capital investments in oil production around the world (future reports will look at coal and natural gas). These have different costs of extraction, leading to a “carbon supply cost curve” for oil production. Carbon Tracker argues that in a world of constrained carbon, it only makes economic sense that it will be the high cost suppliers that get cut out of the action.

This logic is bad news for Alberta’s tar sands, which are among the highest cost reserves. Using an oil and gas industry database, Carbon Tracker looks at a potential $1.1 trillion of capital expenditure on oil projects between 2014 and 2025 that require a price of at least US$95 per barrel market price ($80 break-even) – i.e. those projects most likely to not go ahead in a carbon-constrained world. They find that a very large share of these projects (nearly 40%) are tar sands projects in Alberta (see Figure 7 in particular).

Their advice is to financial investors, highlighting the risk associated with exposure to the high end of the cost curve. Topping the tar sands list is Canadian Natural Resources, a company now infamous for an uncontrolled gush of oil from its in situ operations in Alberta. They have US$38 billion of projected capital expenditures in the tar sands. Suncor is next with $31 billion planned. Shell is next, though the “carbon majors” are less risky as they have diversified portfolios spanning the globe. Cenovus and Athabasca Oil Sands round out the top 5 most risky bets in the tar sands (see Figure 10).

This analysis made big headlines in the UK when it was released a couple months ago, but was essentially ignored by Canada’s mainstream media. Indeed, there is rarely a peep about climate risk as Canada deepens its reliance on fossil fuel exports for wealth generation: new pipelines for bitumen, expansion of coal ports, terminals to liquefy natural gas.

There is good reason to think that this is going to change. Pipeline resistance is BC’s largest social movement. Obama’s climate plans and action in China have breathed some optimism into climate negotiations aspiring for a new international treaty in 2015. There have also been important wins for the growing movement for divestment from fossil fuels on university campuses and within churches. Combined with legal risks arising from First Nation land claims, the bar is high and getting higher for Alberta bitumen.

For the most part, however, the underlying assumption of Canadian financial markets, including most Canadian pension funds, is that governments of the world will not get their act together, so there is no reason to pull out from fossil fuel investments. Some skepticism that governments will be able to reach a new deal is warranted, but the probability of them doing so is not zero either. But even in the absence of a global treaty, unilateral actions by Canada’s trading partners could impose de facto carbon constraints. Examples include the Keystone XL pipeline and European Fuel Quality directives.

There is a strong possibility that, sooner or later, Canada will be living in a carbon-constrained world, a development that would have significant (and, to date, widely ignored) economic implications. In this context, “responsible resource development” implies strategic management of fossil fuel reserves in order to maximize shared prosperity, within the context of a carbon budget. The good news is that Canadians have been bombarded with several decades of budget talk about “living within our means”  – now we just have to apply that to carbon.



Affordable Housing in the Yukon

Earlier today, over at the Northern Public Affairs web site, I blogged about a recent (and controversial) decision made by the Yukon government about affordable housing in the Yukon.  Points raised in the blog post include the following:

-Very little affordable housing gets built in Canada without federal assistance.

-Without financial assistance from senior levels of government, for-profit developers in Canada generally don’t find it worthwhile to build rental housing even for middle-income tenants (never mind low-income tenants).

-Going forward, federal funding for existing social housing in the Yukon is declining.

The full blog post can be accessed at this link.

More People Chase Fewer Jobs

Further to Angella’s excellent analysis:

Statistics Canada reported today that unemployment jumped by 25,700 in June because of shrinking employment and a growing labour force. Canada’s labour force expanded because of population growth, even though the participation rate did not increase. The combination of less employment and a larger working-age population depressed the employment rate to 61.4% – its lowest level since January 2010.

The Harper government has long trumpeted having a stronger job market than the US. In June, the unemployment rate rose in Canada but fell in the US. Statistics Canada reports that it is now the same on both sides of the border, even after adjusting for methodological differences between the two countries.

Continuing evidence of a weak Canadian labour market underscores the need for public investment in important services and infrastructure to help create jobs. Austerity is the wrong priority for federal and provincial governments.

UPDATE (July 12): Quoted by Canadian Press and today’s Toronto Star (page B1).

Dismal job numbers for June

Statistics Canada’s release of job numbers for June look truly dismal. The unemployment rate rose to 7.1%, and there was a loss of 9,400 jobs compared to May.  Year over year, employment rose by only 72,000. That’s a weak 0.4% and the lowest year-over-year increase since February 2010.

An even worse sign – all of that job growth was concentrated in workers over 65. One industry boasted over 80% of net new jobs year-over-year – health care and social assistance.

While there was an increase in full-time work and a a decline in part-time jobs, total hours worked actually fell (month over month AND year over year).  And, despite the fall in part-time jobs, underemployment remains elevated as over 1 million workers are working part-time jobs and need full-time work.

When you break the numbers down by province, well, I’m sure you can guess who is doing well and who isn’t. If we look at the change in both population and employment for 15-64 year olds by province, both Alberta and Ontario stand out.

working age pop

Year-over-year Alberta dominates both population growth and job growth. Ontario, on the other hand, comes in second for population growth, but is actually down nearly 30,000 jobs. Quebec is also notable, as it has had almost no working age population growth, but is down nearly 50,000 jobs compared to last June.

As for that long awaited pivot to business investment and exports, our own Andrew Jackson says that’s like waiting for Godot.

Edit: For those without Globe and Mail subscriptions, here’s Andrew’s analysis over at the Broadbent Institute.

Impact of Fur Trade in U.S.

The fur trade in Canada is often said to have been less malign than in the US, and it was, but that doesn’t say much given the extraordinary disruption it is said to have createn in colonial America by the American historian Bernard Bailyn in his recent (2012) book, appropriately titled The Barbarous Years: The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675:
“[S]omething general and profound…was developing on the eve of English settlement in North America. Emerging slowly at a latent level were the beginnings of fundamental alterations in native culture that, within a single generation after 1600, would prove to be destructive beyond any contemporary imagining….[T]his was a deadly disease. The specific virus, unmistakable in the case of the Iroquois, was the fur trade…Concentration on fur hunts upset the ancient pattern of shifting seasonal activities, led to the neglect of horticulture, and since women were increasingly involved in the preparation of pelts, disturbed the traditional0 division of labour between the sexes…Competition [between tribes] led to bickering, then to skirmishes, then to warfare among peoples otherwise peaceful.”

Bailyn has been charged by at least one reviewer of denying agency to the Indians. If this is true in some momentary sense, the fact of the matter is that the Indians lost out totally in the historical long-run, and are only now winning back ownership of land and resources in Canada, but not in the U.S.

Call for Research

“The interpretation of the history of North America in terms of rum and brandy has not been written, but in the fur trade, rum represented the contribution of the West Indies to trade of the Old Empire, and brandy the emphasis on French vineyards and self-sufficienty.” Innis, 1933
So far as I know, still not written
Must be willing to travel.

Kari Levitt Honoured

Kari Polanyi Levitt, one of own, has been given the Order of Canada. Congratulations to Kari. Richly deserved.

How do we measure job vacancies – beyond Kijiji

The Federal Government and Minister Kenney got a pretty good ribbing over their flawed methodology in measuring job vacancies – and with good reason. Anyone who has used Kijiji for anything knows how unreliable it can be. The difference between Statistics Canada’s method and one that includes Kijiji is pretty easy to communicate.

But there is another method from the CFIB that gets some attention, and different results than Statistics Canada. I usually talk about the number of unemployed workers for each job vacancy, but the proportion of job vacancies to total labour demand (job vacancies + jobs) is a very useful measure too. CFIB finds a job vacancy rate of 2.5% for 2013 Q4 and Statistics Canada reports 1.3% in December 2013.

This is sometimes presented as a puzzle, but the different result is mostly because the CFIB measures something different than Statistics Canada. The CFIB is very transparent about what exactly they are measuring, and why they think it’s important. This measure adds information to the policy debate, and that’s great. I think a better understanding of the differences enhances the debate.

First, the CFIB only surveys private businesses. That’s useful for their membership, and understanding unmet labour demand in the private sector. Statistics Canada includes public sector jobs. The CFIB suggests that job vacancies are lower in the public sector, but we don’t have conclusive data on that. Statistics Canada tells us that the job vacancy rate in the field of Education Services (which is 90% public sector) is very low – only 0.4%. But Public Administration (100% public sector) is at the national average of 1.4%. So it’s unlikely that this could explain the whole difference between the two numbers.

But wait, it’s not possible that low public sector job vacancy rates would explain the difference in results, because the CFIB method finds more job vacancies in the private sector (295,700) than Statistics Canada finds in both the public and private sector combined (202,500).

So what explains the difference? Well, Statistics Canada requires that an actual position exist for it to be considered a job vacancy. CFIB does not require that a position exist, or that a business be actively advertising to fill that position. All that must exist is a need. This is clearly explained in the CFIB’s methodology section of their regular job vacancy releases. This is a broader definition of labour demand, that tells us something useful. It is comparable to including discouraged job seekers, who aren’t actively looking for work, but express a desire to work if a passive search connected them to a good match.

So Statistics Canada’s job vacancy measure is to the CFIB job vacancy measure as unemployment rates are to underemployment rates. For the most part. Maybe when we get the upgraded job vacancy survey that Minister Kenney has promised to fund, we’ll also get a public / private breakdown of statistics so that the two measures can be better compared.

Job Vacancies Falling

The number of job vacancies recorded by Statistics Canada are at a four year low (job vacancy data collection began in January 2011). The number of unemployed persons has changed very little, and so we have a relatively high number of unemployed persons per job vacancy.

Even though the data is not seasonally adjusted, you can see an overall trend toward fewer job vacancies, especially since 2012.



As of March 2014, there were only 206,000 job vacancies for nearly 1.4 million unemployed workers in Canada, giving us 6.8 unemployed workers for every job vacancy. If you add underemployment into the mix, there were 2.9 million underemployed workers in Canada in March 2014 (three month average, seasonally unadjusted). That gives us a national underemployment to job vacancy ratio of 14.3.


There are very different trends in Ontario and Quebec. You can see that while Ontario has a higher number of underemployed workers per job vacancy than Quebec, this number is slightly better than it was in March 2011. On the other hand, Quebec’s ratio is higher in each subsequent March, and much higher in March 2014 than it was in March 2013.

Saskatchewan and Alberta boast relatively low ratios, but Saskatchewan saw a marked rise over last year. British Columbia’s unemployment to job vacancy ratio improved between March 2013 and March 2014, but their *underemployment* ratio worsened slightly.

If you’re interested in the number of underemployed workers in your province, and the resulting underemployed worker to job vacancy ratio, I’ve calculated the most recent numbers here.

March 2014
Seasonally unadjusted 3 month average
Underemployed Job Vacancies Ratio
Canada 2,946,545 206,200 14.3
Newfoundland & Labrador 65,821 2,700 24.4
PEI 19,561 500 39.1
Nova Scotia 96,907 4,400 22.0
New Brunswick 81,909 4,000 20.5
Quebec 684,505 37,100 18.5
Ontario 1,246,309 63,400 19.7
Manitoba 91,137 11,100 8.2
Saskatchewan 58,459 7,000 8.4
Alberta 216,606 46,300 4.7
British Columbia 383,557 28,800 13.3


If these numbers sound outrageous, that’s because they are. Recently in Nova Scotia, Giant Tiger received nearly 400 applications for 50 job openings. From the article: “Every individual that applied had great background in retail.”

Keep these numbers in mind this week (or next) as Jason Kenney announces changes to the Temporary Foreign Worker program, and every time an employer claims that they are unable to find workers in Canada.

Will Enbridge’s pipeline ever get built?

You have to wonder why the Harper government bothered with process at all. It’s like there was never any doubt that Enbridge’s Northern Gateway pipeline would get approved. But historians may look back on this moment as the beginning of the end of pipeline politics.

Opposition to Enbridge’s Northern Gateway Pipeline is BC’s largest social movement. A large majority of British Columbians are opposed to the pipeline. BC First Nations, who hold the ultimate trump card – the constitutionality of their rights and title, have said no means no. Thousands testified to the Joint Review Panel (and its arguably limited flawed process). Even friend of fossil fuels, Premier Christy Clark, maintains her five conditions for BC’s approval have not been met.

So the betting odds are that this pipeline will never get built. Even the federal decision came at the last minute, without ministerial fanfare, advertising campaign or the term “Harper government” on the media release. Moreover, by igniting a BC-based opposition, the 21 seats the Conservatives hold in BC could be the difference between a renewed majority or not in the 2015 election.

The Harper government’s relentless push to make Canada an energy superpower based on tripling production from the tar sands may now be its undoing. Blame Obama — the US president has had to delay and delay a decision on the unpopular Keystone XL pipeline. This pushed Harper to look to the west, only to find that Western alienation is now about BC not Alberta.

The proposed Kinder-Morgan Trans Mountain pipeline is in similar jeopardy, even as hearings on pipelines, post-Enbridge, have been hobbled. They no longer carry the risk that such large numbers will show up and make reasonable arguments against. I was denied the right to be heard at the upcoming Kinder-Morgan Pipeline hearings, even though I am one of just a few people in the country that has done research on the economic costs and benefits of pipelines.

Not that Enbridge had a stellar track record going into the JRP hearings, either. Enbridge’s poor handling of its Kalamazoo, Michigan pipeline spill was exposed at the same time the JRP hearings were underway (perhaps the three person panel was too busy to notice).  Indeed, Enbridge had over 800 oil spills on its North American pipeline network between 1999 and 2010, a total of 27 million litres of hydrocarbons or enough to fill 10 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

With hearings on, the company promoted maps missing islands along the Northern BC shipping route. It peddled grossly inflated job claims based on shoddy modelling. It made claims of First Nations support that disappeared in the daylight. And yet, after all of these gaffes, in production, communications and science, it is remarkable that their proposal is even being given serious consideration. But even in straight up dollar terms, projected construction costs have soared from $5.5 billion to almost $8 billion.

The Enbridge brand has become mud in BC. Across Canada, the Enbridge Ride for the Cure raises money for cancer research (the solution brought to you by the problem). But in Vancouver, Enbridge’s name is so toxic, it’s just the Ride for the Cure. Promo ads now run for Northern Gateway Pipeline but do not name the proponent.

In the opposition to Enbridge, Keystone and Kinder-Morgan, we are seeing a public response to a fossil fuel industry has gotten too large, its infrastructure causing too much damage. The costs of the carbon economy, local environmental damage due to spills and costs associated with climate change, were recently estimated at $1.2 trillion per year.

Climate change and changing attitudes about addressing it also suggest this pipeline may never happen. It’s been widely noted that two-thirds to four-fifths of the world’s proven reserves of fossil fuels need to stay in the ground, perhaps much more in Canada. A recent report by Carbon Tracker highlighted the highest cost sources of oil include most projects in Alberta. These are unfeasable in a carbon-constrained world (i.e. one that limits warming to 2 degrees).

These are the dying days of the old fossil fuel empires. The companies want to extract as much profit out of their investments as they can, and stick others with the bill for damages. They have won over political parties of all stripes across the nation, but lack the social license to proceed. In the interim they have shifted to Plan B – rail cars that periodically derail and explode – but the times they are a-changing.

We’ve reached a point now where the economics of renewables, knowledge of better building design and urban planning, “zero waste” approaches to materials, and so forth are transforming our economy even amid political support that is at best wavering and insufficient.

My bold prediction is that when we tell the Enbridge story in the future, it will be of a pivotal moment in how we view our economy and livelihoods, a rejection of dirty energy in favour of clean alternatives, and the collapse of a destructive economic dream.

Andrea Horwath’s Debacle

I can’t remember the last time I laughed out loud when I saw election results. I almost spat a mouthful of my breakfast across the room.

Almost nobody expected Ontario’s Liberals to win a majority, least of all the NDP’s Andrea Horwath. Her decision to pull the plug on the Wynne government has to go down as one of the worst political miscalculations in recent memory.

While the NDP are putting a brave face on the results, there is little question this was a debacle of Horwath’s engineering. While once she was in the driver’s seat, now the NDP are once again relegated to third party status.

Moreover, it didn’t have to go down this way. She could have used the election to stake out the ground left of the Liberals. Instead, she did quite the opposite. As a result, the NDP picked up just one seat, although lost important seats in the crucial Toronto region.

In a story published by the Toronto Star days before the election, written by Linda Diebel, Horwath was portrayed as being deeply angry with the Liberals for reneging on promises made the previous year. She was so pissed that she apparently didn’t bother to read this year’s budget before pulling the plug. A budget many considered the most progressive seen in years.

But instead of running to the left and portraying the Liberals as corporate sell-outs, the NDP campaign steered right. They set out to curry favour with small businesses, and vowed to set up a ministerial post to chop waste. And they attacked the Liberals, while ignoring the far more dangerous Tories.

In fact, the Star’s Thomas Walkom ran a column in which he said that Horwath might be willing to support a Tim Hudak government and join them in slashing the civil service (the difference was that she wanted to chop managers and he wanted to chop frontline workers). Such willingness to embrace elements of the right’s agenda was what raised the ire of the 34 prominent leftists but also – it turned out – the Ontario electorate.

The NDP’s strategy is important because of next year’s federal election. The NDP, in 2011, went after the Liberals in order to pick up seats, which finally gave Harper his long-coveted majority. The question now is whether the NDP will dust off this strategy once again, risking the Tories sneaking up the middle. If they are smart (which is debateable) the party will stay clear of the sectarianism of the past and go after the Tories from the left. Indeed, Hudak’s policy of taking a hard right turn has shown how the right-wing message is not resonating.

Still, what is getting lost in the aftermath is the fact that all three parties have embraced, with varying degrees of severity, the austerity agenda. All three wish to balance the budget on the backs of workers and the poor. None of them are really prepared to raise sufficient funds by taxing the banks, brokerages, corporations and multinationals that do business in Canada. Or plug the numerous loopholes in our tax code that allow the aforementioned to exploit offshore tax havens to tremendous effect.

Recently, in one of France’s daily newspapers, Alexis Tsipras of the Syriza party of Greece’s radical left, gave an interview about the impact of austerity on his country. There is a good chance that Tsipras could be Greece’s next prime minister.

Greece’s economic woes lie in the fact that its political elite basically took on way too much debt without collecting enough taxes to pay it off. Since the credit crisis began, the elite has attempted to solve the problem by cutting government spending, slashing wages, laying off civil servants and selling state assets to the private sector. They have not clamped down on massive tax evasion by the Greek bourgeoisie and corporate sector. The result has been 6 years of painful recession and 27% unemployment.

Tsipras said the crisis has been used by German capital, the EU and the IMF to turn Greece into a low wage state. Indeed, massive unemployment, as we know, freezes and even deflates wage growth. Tsiparis’s analysis clearly applies to Canada, where cuts to the public sector and growing unemployment tend to cow labour demands for higher wages.

In fact, Hudak’s agenda was clear on this: along with cutting 100,000 civil servants’ jobs, he planned to slash corporate taxes and turn Ontario into the cheapest place in North America to do business. And to think the NDP were open to forming a government with these guys.

The NDP could have tacked left and used the current economic conditions to emphasize the necessity to have big business and the rich pay their fair share. It was a lost opportunity, one they paid a steep price for.

Indeed, look forward to the Wynne government eventually taking an axe to the public service. And the NDP will now be sitting on the sidelines instead of preventing real damage being done. And it was all very unnecessary.

Until people begin to look at political alternatives beyond the three mainstream bourgeois parties, economic expansion is not likely to occur.

Labour market stagnant

Erin has already commented that the tiny silver lining of 26,000 net new jobs in May covers a net loss of full-time jobs. In fact, if you compare this May to May 2013, we see that all of the net job gain in the past 12 months is part-time work too.

To look at the trends, I broke down employment growth since October 2008 into part-time and full-time jobs. This shows that full-time job growth has been pretty much stagnant since January 2013.


While we expect to see stronger growth in part time work earlier in a recovery, here we see the growth of part-time work accelerating again – over four years after the beginning of the recession.

The number of underemployed part-time workers (working part-time, wanting full-time hours) has remained elevated since the beginning of this recession. You can see from the graph that there was some easing in 2012, but with the recent increase in part-time work, the trend is moving upwards again.



This May there were over 1 million underemployed part-time workers in Canada, and a total of 2.9 million unemployed and underemployed workers (not seasonally adjusted). Nearly 1 million of those workers were under the age of 24.

Ontario workers, in particular, are having a hard time. The underemployment rate for Ontario (not seasonally adjusted) was 16.6% in May – 2 percentage points higher than the national average. That represents 550,000 unemployed and 735,000 underemployed Ontario workers.

And Tim Hudak plans to fix that by firing 100,000 public sector workers. I think we need a better plan.

Jobs Up, But Hours Flat

On the surface, today’s employment numbers simply continue a recent trend: employers added some jobs but not enough to keep pace with Canada’s growing labour force. As a result, unemployment edged back up to 7%.

But just below the surface were some even worse developments. Employers actually cut 29,000 full-time positions while adding 55,000 part-time positions in May. Over the past year, the number of hours paid by Canadian employers edged up by only 0.1%, although these hours are now split between more employees.

By industry, the single largest change in May was the loss of 23,000 jobs in natural resources, a relatively well-paid sector. That was offset by more service-sector jobs, which tend to pay less. The average hourly wage edged up by only 1.4% over the past year, less than the rate of inflation.

I did the following interview yesterday comparing the Canadian and American job markets:

Short Circuited: Assessing Hudak’s Energy Policy

The following is a guest post by Brendan Haley:

Jim Stanford and I have written an assessment of the Ontario PC’s energy policy for Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives entitled Short Circuited. In particular, we look into the idea that cancelling renewable energy policies will lead to job creation. Here are some highlights:

More Data Problems

There has already been extensive discussion of how the jobs estimates that come from the analysis behind the PC Plan have been over-estimated by a factor of 8. We find this problem for the electricity promise as well, but there is a more fundamental issue.

The PC Plan and the analysis by Benjamin Zycher are based on reducing electric prices to the “national average”. But, the data used for Zycher’s explanatory variable is not comparing electricity prices across provinces. Rather it is an index of the cumulative change in industrial electricity prices, between a particular base year and a particular month. These data do not tell us anything about the absolute level of electricity prices in Ontario versus other jurisdictions. We show that if you change the base year or the benchmark month, Ontario’s price index can be lower than the Canadian index. This makes the results of the econometric model essentially meaningless. The findings certainly cannot be given the interpretation that makes its way into the PC plan (namely that cutting electricity prices to the Canadian average would create over 40,000 new jobs). Read more »

Benjamin Zycher’s Eight-Year Itch

The controversy regarding the mathematical errors in the Ontario PCs’ “million jobs plan” went viral last week, after a critical mass of economists weighed in to confirm that the party had indeed badly misinterpreted the findings (by as much as 8 times over) of their own consultants’ studies.  This sparked a firestorm of media coverage, inspired the Globe and Mail’s Adrian Morrow to rename the Tory campaign bus (now called “The Million Person-Years Express”), and spawned a satiric hashtag (#Hudak8) that trended on Twitter. Read more »

PEF Events at This Year’s Annual Conference of the CEA

For the 15th consecutive year, the Progressive Economics Forum (PEF) will be sponsoring events at the Annual Conference of the Canadian Economics Association (which takes place this month in Vancouver).  PEF events will take place this Friday and Saturday; details pertaining to all PEF events can be found at this link.

Once again this year, I am the PEF Events Coordinator for the conference.  Feel free to contact me with any questions at

More on Conference Board Model of Corporate Tax Cuts

Further to my post yesterday about how the Ontario PCs have vastly overstated their own consultants’ estimates of the number of jobs produced by their various policy proposals (including lower corporate taxes, lower electricity prices, interprovincial free trade, and regulatory reduction), some have asked me about precisesly how the Conference Board report simulated the corporate tax reduction I was discussing. Read more »

People are hungry for economics that works for people and the planet

As economics students around the world demand change in the curriculum and challenge their professors to open classrooms to pluralism in perspectives and views, the interest in heterodox economics is growing here in Canada too. You can see in the tremendous interest to this year’s PEF Summer School in heterodox economics, which we titled Economics that Works for People and the Planet. With less than a week to go to our day-long session on May 26, 2014, we are now at full capacity!

We asked the 2014 PEF Summer School applicants to briefly tell us why they are interested in learning more heterodox economics and the word cloud below illustrates their responses.

Word cloud PEF Summer School 2014

I removed the words economics, PEF and the phrase summer school from their responses.

We received a total of 60 applications for the PEF Summer School from a mix of undergraduate and graduate students in economics and related fields, practicing economists and researchers in higher education, the labour movement and NGOs, and engaged citizens. The local interest in heterodox economics far surpassed our expectations, forcing us to change venues to a bigger room to accommodate all qualified participants (thanks for the generous support of the Canadian Economics Association for making that happen!). I can’t wait!

Rental Housing in Yellowknife

Yesterday I blogged about rental housing in Yellowknife, over at the Northern Public Affairs web site.  Specifically, I blogged about a recent announcement by the city’s largest for-profit landlord that it plans to “tighten” its policies vis-a-vis renting to recipients of “income assistance” (which, in most parts of Canada, is known generically as social assistance).  Among other things, I suggest in the post that the for-profit landlord in question may be in a monopoly situation.  The link to my blog post is here.

Major Numerical Problems in Tim Hudak’s Jobs Plan

When Ontario PC leader Tim Hudak kicked off the current election campaign with a plan to “create a million new jobs” in Ontario, he tried to dress up the platform launch with a certain scientific respectability.  The party released a “technical backgrounder” showing the precise composition of the million new jobs, along with two commissioned consultants’ reports that were said to justify the estimates contained in the plan. Read more »

Hudak job cuts impact on communities

Today the Ontario Federation of Labour and CUPE Ontario published calculations I prepared of how Ontario Conservative leader Tim Hudak’s promise to eliminate 100,000 public sector jobs will be felt at the local level, on cities and communities across the province.

The original OFL release provides info on the magnitude of these impacts for the 15 largest census metropolitan areas across Ontario, for which labour force survey figures are available, a second release has the impacts for smaller communities, while CUPE Ontario has put a map on-line  that shows the impact for all the metro areas and a number of smaller cities and towns (or “census agglomerations”).   Below I include some details on how the numbers were calculated and provide the impacts for the full list of communities.

These job cuts–more extreme than  under Mike Harris–would be devastating for many communities.   As I outlined in a previous post, if the elimination of 100,000 public sector jobs plus the spin-off jobs led to an equivalent increase in unemployment, Ontario’s unemployment rate would reach 9.7% (based on an increase from current rates)– the highest in 20 years.

But the impacts would be even greater for particular communities.  What this analysis shows is if public sector jobs are eliminated proportionally, the impacts would be especially severe for mid- and smaller-sized cities and towns in the province–and could lead to double-digit unemployment rates in many.

Read more »