Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Not all statistics tell the full story

“We don't know whether people are departing for new employment, or if they are exhausting benefits and persisting in the unemployment pool – and that is problematic"-- Toronto Dominion economist Grant Bishop, highlighting a major discrepancy between official unemployment numbers and what the real rate may be.

The latest EI statistics have been released across Canada, the monthly summary that charts the number of Canadians engaged in the workforce or chronicling the numbers of those that are on an active EI claim. Numbers which show a slight decline in August across the country, but are twinned with indications of growing numbers of unemployed in BC and Ontario.

Globe and Mail-- New jobless claims rise 8.2 per cent
National Post-- Numbers on EI benefits dip in August, but up on year

When the numbers go down and the prospects go up, the government is quick to trumpet the success of their programs, or find signs of progress in the new data, eager to show that they have the economic picture well in hand.

However, some of those announcements and congratulatory tones may be based on a rather flawed number and one that may not be steeped in the day to day reality for most Canadians.

But one very important piece of data, one that is growing in importance as the economic malaise continues on, will be missing from that stats package today. The listing of those Canadians who no longer show up on the EI rolls, but haven't returned to the workforce yet.

Globe and Mail-- EI data don't count those who run out

They are the Zombies of the stats pool, wandering in some bureaucratic nether world, out of sight, out of mind it seems and for many out of options.

For Prince Rupert and many other Northwest communities their numbers and situation have been a constant for years. On a claim for their term of collection and then disappearing on paper, but not in person. Perhaps moving on to welfare rolls if they qualify, others to the myriad of job search related programs that seem to just hide them for a while. Some may have returned to family structures for support, while others moving out of the region in the quest for better employment options and taking with them a tax base for a struggling community.

Now that the issue of the unreported and under employed is starting to appear in the larger communities, the key flaw in the government's statistic keeping is getting a second look. With calls for a better accounting of the unemployment situation in the nation being a main focus.

Though some do question just how dedicated that governments of all levels may be in providing a better picture of the true state of employment in the country.

Some provinces have better record keeping than others, in British Columbia the data is more complete, with the most recent reports from April showing that the number of two parent families that have claimed welfare in the last year has risen by 77 percent, indicative of tougher times across the province, as the EI claims run out and the job options grow slimmer. Six months later it would be interesting to learn what those numbers look like as the economic slowdown continues.

The EI numbers over the last decade have always been a bit of a shell game, indicative it seems only of active participants in the program, but discounting the numbers of those that exhausted their claims, but may not have found any other options in the workplace to get back on track.

There is no complete national data base that provides the full picture of who is working, who is not, who has been forced onto the welfare rolls and who may have fallen between the cracks of the social safety net.

With EI and welfare divided between different levels of government, and some provinces not able to provide a true picture of their welfare rolls, the overall compilation of numbers would appear to be a challenge.

Human Resources and Skills Canada, which oversees the EI program has not been able to provide an updated and complete number of those Canadians who may have exhausted their benefits.

The last data they have published tracks back to 2007, considering the much documented arrival of the recession late last year and many of the the job losses in the larger urban areas that have arrived with it, one can't help but wonder just how high the EI rate really might be. Especially if the government were to include all of those non participants in the workforce, who today just don't seem to exist in any formal government accounting.

Then again, we're not sure that any government would be particularly thrilled about having to release that number, nor finding out how Canadians would react to the bottom line on unemployment.

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