EI: National Improvements Needed

Today’s Employment Insurance (EI) figures confirm that fewer than half of unemployed Canadians received EI benefits in April. Although 18,600 more Canadians received benefits in April than in March, this was the smallest increase in six months.

The relatively modest increase in EI beneficiaries corresponds to a relatively small increase in official unemployment during April, the month in which the Labour Force Survey indicated a surprise surge in self-employment.

Employment Insurance Coverage, April 2009

 

EI Recipients 

Unemployment 

EI Coverage 

Canada 

697.0 

1,464.6 

47.6 % 

Newfoundland

39.4

36.8

107.1 %

PEI

8.4

9.7

86.6 %

Nova Scotia 

32.4 

45.7 

70.9 % 

New Brunswick

34.6

35.6

97.2 %

Quebec

199.3

352.9

56.5 %

Ontario

230.0

621.2

37.0 %

Manitoba

14.4

29.1

49.5 %

Saskatchewan

13.2

27.3

48.4 %

Alberta

48.3

126.6

38.2 %

BC

82.7

179.8

46.0 %

 
Access Barely Improves
As noted in last month’s commentary, a higher percentage of unemployed Canadians are receiving benefits due to layoffs of full-time employees who have enough hours to qualify and due to the automatic loosening of EI eligibility rules as the unemployment rate rises.

 

But the pace of change is painfully slow. The proportion of unemployed workers accessing benefits rose by less than 1% last month – from 46.8% in March to 47.6% in April.

Regional Disparities Abate

The improvement in EI coverage was stronger in western Canada. The percentage of unemployed workers receiving benefits in Manitoba and Saskatchewan now exceeds the national average. Alberta is still well below the national average, but has pulled ahead of Ontario. BC remains close to the national average.

This development would seem to upend the recent call from western Premiers for greater regional fairness in the EI program. However, somewhat improved EI coverage in western Canada makes Ontario’s low rate of EI benefits even more striking.

Policy Agenda

The slow pace of natural improvement in EI benefit coverage should prompt deliberate changes to make EI benefits more accessible. It is disappointing that the Leader of the Opposition made a national eligibility standard of 360 hours his chief demand only to quickly abandon it.

There is a risk that the proposed “working group” on EI will focus only on ironing out regional differences rather than on enhancing EI nationally. In theory, regional parity could be achieved by making EI more stringent everywhere in Canada.

The goal should not be a national standard just for the sake of regional parity. The goal should be a national standard that significantly enhances the accessibility, level and duration of EI benefits for all Canadian workers.

One comment

  • I must say that today’s announcement by Finley on some new EI improvements is but electioneering on the backs of people’s pain and suffering and is a low place to go for those elected.

    Her quote here really gets under the skin, in a quite alien way. (from the globe & mail)

    But Finley characterized the 360-hour proposal as an “irresponsible and grossly expensive notion of allowing people to . . . have basically a two-month work year,” adding that the focus of any new plans would be “on getting people back to work and giving them the supports they need to do that.”

    How does a woman with such a viewpoint get into a position of such power. Basically calling all those that the uniform reporting requirements of 360 hours as a bunch of slackers. How can she just call EI claimants and those applying and make such callous inferences and still show up to her job and pretend she represents Canadian’s interests when it comes to employment issues. She should resign immediately.

    Wow!

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