Michael Hlinka: Digging for the truth in Canada's employment report
- September 21, 2010 8:05 AM |
- By Michael Hlinka
Money Talks is a business column from CBC radio.
By Michael Hlinka, CBC business columnist.
Economists are prone to make things more complicated than they really are. The ultimate reality about the health of an economy at any moment in time is reflected in the health of its labour market.
Yes, to an extent it matters whether stock markets are going up or going down. And things like real estate prices affect the decision of employers to put or not put people on the payroll. But all this really points to is that where the rubber really hits the road is in the labour market - and there are some disquieting trends in Canadian employment that tell me that this recovery is much more a so-called recovery than an actual one.
In order to be considered unemployed, you must be out of work and actively seeking work. Why is this significant? Because there is a category of people known as "discouraged workers." A discouraged worker has essentially given up.
So let's say that in the labour force at any one time, there are 900 people working and 100 people out of work and looking for work. The unemployment rate is 10 per cent. Then imagine that half of those unemployed folks think it's no longer worth the bother. You see what happens? The unemployment rate has just been cut in half... even though there are still only 900 people gainfully employed.
And when you combine the discouraged workers and the unemployed in Canada, that number has barely come down at all in the past year.
There's something else to consider when we talk about someone being "employed." For Stats Can purposes, it doesn't matter if someone is working 15 hours a week or 35 hours a week. In either case, that individual is considered employed.
So let's return to the very simple model I introduced previously. There are 900 people working - and all of them are working 15 hours a week. That would total 13,500 hours. Now imagine that 500 people are working 35 hours a week. That's 17,500 hours.
You see what's been demonstrated: It is conceivable that more work is actually getting done with a 50 per cent unemployment rate than a 10 per cent unemployment rate.
That last example is an extreme one, I'd be the first to admit it. But here's the reality in the Canadian economy: Almost one-third of people working part-time say that they would prefer to have full-time hours. We're talking about well over one million Canadians.
And even though I consider myself an economist ... of a sort ... I'd like to think that I keep things simple instead of complicating them unnecessarily. From my perspective, at least, the simple truth is that the economic recovery that we've heard is underway is more myth than truth, because the ultimate truth of an economy is reflected in its employment numbers.
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