There are many factors other than federal government policy that strongly influence the quantity and quality of Canadian jobs including resource prices, business decisions, the state of the American and the global economy, and the actions of provincial governments to name a few.
That hasn’t stopped Stephen Harper and his Conservative government from trumpeting their record as good economic managers and pursuing a successful jobs and growth agenda. Harper’s supposedly “steady hand” on the economy is central to Conservative election messaging and his perceived economic acumen a frequent talking point of the mainstream press.
So on the eve of the tabling of the federal budget for 2015-16 and during this election, it is relevant to ask: has the job market improved under Harper’s watch from 2006 to 2014?
A close look at the data takes a good deal of shine off Harper’s lofty claims. The long-term trend has been towards a more polarized jobs market: the growth of full time work is being dwarfed by the growth of low-pay, part-time and precarious work. The employment rate in 2014 remained very low at 61.7%, youth unemployment stubbornly high at 13.5%, and there is indication of increasing wage inequality.
Unemployment and Employment
The Harper government has made misleading claims about its jobs record by looking only at the period of recovery since the recession, a choice that flatters its record and ignores the negative impact of the recession years on the job market.
Table 1 shows trends in the unemployment rate and the employment rate from 2006 to 2009, and from 2009 to 2014.
|Unemployment and Employment Rate by Age and Gender, 2006-2014|
|Unemployment Rate||Both sexes||15 years and over||6.3||8.3||6.9|
|Both sexes||15 to 24 years||11.7||15.4||13.5|
|Both sexes||25 to 54 years||5.3||7.1||5.8|
|Both sexes||55 years and over||5.1||6.6||5.8|
|Males||15 years and over||6.5||9.5||7.4|
|Males||15 to 24 years||12.8||18.4||15|
|Males||25 to 54 years||5.4||8.1||6|
|Males||55 years and over||5.2||7.5||6.3|
|Females||15 years and over||6.1||7||6.4|
|Females||15 to 24 years||10.4||12.3||11.9|
|Females||25 to 54 years||5.2||6.1||5.4|
|Females||55 years and over||5||5.4||5.1|
|Employment Rate||Both sexes||15 years and over||62.8||61.5||61.4|
|Both sexes||15 to 24 years||58.5||55.3||55.5|
|Both sexes||25 to 54 years||81.6||80.3||81.2|
|Both sexes||55 years and over||30.5||32.7||35.1|
|Males||15 years and over||67.6||65.1||65.4|
|Males||15 to 24 years||57.7||53.4||54.2|
|Males||25 to 54 years||86.2||83.5||85.1|
|Males||55 years and over||37.1||38.3||40.5|
|Females||15 years and over||58.1||58||57.6|
|Females||15 to 24 years||59.3||57.3||56.9|
|Females||25 to 54 years||77||77.1||77.4|
|Females||55 years and over||24.7||27.7||30.1|
|Employment Rate||Both Sexes 15 years and over|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||50.4||49.7||53.8|
|Prince Edward Island||60.7||59.5||61.4|
Source: Statistics Canada. Table 282-0002 - Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by sex and detailed age group, annual. (accessed: January 28, 2015)
The unemployment rate is the percentage of persons in a year who were not working and were actively seeking work. The employment rate is the percentage of persons who were working, as opposed to being unemployed or not actively seeking work.
The national unemployment rate rose from 6.3% in 2006 to 8.3% in 2009, and then fell to 6.9% in 2014. Despite the recovery, the unemployment rate is still significantly higher than in 2006. This is especially true of the unemployment rate for young persons aged 15 to 24, which was still almost two percentage points higher in 2014 than in 2006 (13.5% vs 11.7%.) Unemployment rose more for men than for women.
The employment rate has fallen from 62.8% in 2006 to 61.4% in 2014, and did not increase in the recovery period from 2009 to 2014. This is mainly because a proportion of Canadians have stopped looking actively for work, often because they think that no desirable jobs are available. Likely the employment rate has fallen a bit because more young people are staying longer in higher education due to the state of the job market. An ageing work force is also a factor.
As shown in the Table 2, the employment rate for so-called “core age” male workers between age 25 and age 54 fell from 86.2% to 81.5%, and has increased from 77.0% to 77.4% for women in the same age group. However, the employment rate of “core age” women actually fell from 2013 to 2014, from 78.1% to 77.4%, perhaps marking the end of a very long upward trend. The employment rate of “core age” women peaked at 78.0% in 2010.
The employment rate of young workers age 15 to 24 fell sharply from 58.5% to 55.5%, but rose from 30.5% to 35.1% for older workers age 55 and over. Within this overall age group, there was a big jump from 42.6% to 50.0% for persons age 60 to 64, and from 16.9% to 24.8% for persons age 65 to 69. While there is still a sharp decline in the employment rate between age 60 to 64 and age 65 to 69, there has definitely been a significant shift to later retirement since 2006. While this is partly voluntary, inadequate pension savings are undoubtedly also a factor.
Looking at the change in the employment rate since 2006 by province, the decline was most marked in British Columbia, falling from 62.2% to 59.5%, and in Ontario, falling from 63.3% to 61.0%.
Full and Part-Time Jobs
Table 2 also shows the change in the number of full-time and part-time workers between 2006 and 2014, by age and by gender.
Employment by Full and Part Time Status
|Sex||Age group||2006||2014||Change||% Change|
|Full-time employment||Both sexes||15 years and over||13416.8||14369.9||953.1||7.1|
|Both sexes||15 to 24 years||1417.6||1273.5||-144.1||-10.2|
|Both sexes||25 to 54 years||10177.4||10405.1||227.7||2.2|
|Both sexes||55 years and over||1821.8||2691.3||869.5||47.7|
|Males||15 years and over||7737.9||8182.5||444.6||5.7|
|Males||15 to 24 years||809.3||742.3||-67||-8.3|
|Males||25 to 54 years||5797||5825.9||28.9||0.5|
|Males||55 years and over||1131.7||1614.3||482.6||42.6|
|Females||15 years and over||5678.8||6187.4||508.6||9|
|Females||15 to 24 years||608.4||531.2||-77.2||-12.7|
|Females||25 to 54 years||4380.4||4579.1||198.7||4.5|
|Females||55 years and over||690.1||1077.1||387||56.1|
|Part-time employment||Both sexes||15 years and over||2979.2||3432.3||453.1||15.2|
|Both sexes||15 to 24 years||1126||1212||86||7.6|
|Both sexes||25 to 54 years||1340.5||1421.1||80.6||6|
|Both sexes||55 years and over||512.8||799.2||286.4||55.9|
|Males||15 years and over||949.4||1145.5||196.1||20.7|
|Males||15 to 24 years||473.2||497.9||24.7||5.2|
|Males||25 to 54 years||281.1||343||61.9||22|
|Males||55 years and over||195.1||304.6||109.5||56.1|
|Females||15 years and over||2029.8||2286.8||257||12.7|
|Females||15 to 24 years||652.8||714.1||61.3||9.4|
|Females||25 to 54 years||1059.3||1078.1||18.8||1.8|
|Females||55 years and over||317.7||494.6||176.9||55.7|
Source: Statistics Canada. Table 282-0002 (accessed: January 29, 2015).
Between 2006 and 2014, the number of part-time jobs rose by twice as much in percentage terms as the number of full-time jobs (15.2% vs 7.1%.) The increase in part-time jobs (56.1%) was highly concentrated among older workers age 55 and over.
Strikingly, one in three (32.2%) of the total increase in jobs between 2006 and 2014 was in part-time jobs. This is a much higher proportion than the part-time share of the workforce in 2006, which stood at 18.2%. By 2014, the proportion of part-timers in the workforce was 19.3%, the same as in 2009 when the recovery began.
Note that the total number of full-time jobs held by young workers age 15 to 24 fell by 144,000 or 10.2% between 2006 and 2014, only partly offset by an increase of 86,000 part-time jobs. Meanwhile, part-time employment grew rapidly among workers age 55 and older, and grew at a faster rate than full-time employment (55.9% vs 47.7%.)
Statistics Canada provides data on the reasons why people are working part-time. (Table 282-0014) Between 2006 and 2014, the proportion of involuntary part-time workers, in other words those who would prefer to work full-time, rose from 23.9% to 27.3%. Note that the category of “involuntary” part-time workers does not include parents unable to make child care arrangements and students working part-time who might prefer to be working if they could find a full-time job.
Table 3 shows that the change in the number of self-employed workers between 2006 and 2014 was slightly greater than the change in the number of employees (8.8% vs. 8.6%.) However, the number of “solo” self-employed workers (those working by themselves with no employees) rose by 15.7%. Many persons working alone for themselves alone are in very insecure and low-paid employment.
|Employment by class of worker. Total Employment Canada. Both Sexes in Thousands|
|Total employed, all classes of workers||16396||17802.2||1406.2||8.6|
|Public sector employees (1)||3176.4||3545.7||369.3||11.6|
|Private sector employees (2)||10715.8||11531.2||815.4||7.6|
|Self-employed incorporated, with paid help (3)||588.1||621.4||33.3||5.7|
|Self-employed incorporated, no paid help (4)||409.3||545||135.7||33.2|
|Self-employed unincorporated, with paid help (5)||263.7||202.9||-60.8||-23.1|
|Self-employed unincorporated, no paid help (6)||1214.1||1333.8||119.7||9.9|
|Unpaid family worker (7)||28.5||22.2||-6.3||-22.1|
|Source: Statistics Canada. Table 282-0012. (accessed: January 29, 2015)|
Employment by Occupation
Table 4 shows changes in employment between 2006 and 2014 by major occupational categories (shown in bold) and also by detailed occupations. This is a more meaningful way of looking at job quality than looking at employment by industry, since industries such as manufacturing, retail trade and finance include a mixture of higher and lower paid and more and less secure occupations.
|Number (000s) and Percentage Composition of Employment by Occupation|
|Canada, Both Sexes||Number||% Total||Number||% Total||Number||% of Total|
|Total, all occupations (10)||16396||17802.2||1406.2||100.0%|
|Management occupations [A]||1504.5||9.18||1422.7||7.99||-81.8||-5.8%|
|Senior Management Occupations||91.4||0.56||57||0.32||-34.4||-2.4%|
|Other management occupations [A1-A3]||1413.1||8.62||1365.7||7.67||-47.4||-3.4%|
|Business, finance and administrative occupations [B]||2964.6||18.08||3088.8||17.35||124.2||8.8%|
|Professional occupations in business and finance [B0]||495.6||3.02||591.4||3.32||95.8||6.8%|
|Financial, secretarial and administrative occupations [B1-B3]||795.1||4.85||892.9||5.02||97.8||7.0%|
|Clerical occupations, including supervisors [B4-B5]||1673.8||10.21||1604.5||9.01||-69.3||-4.9%|
|Natural and applied sciences and related occupations [C]||1123||6.85||1352.8||7.6||229.8||16.3%|
|Health occupations [D]||981.9||5.99||1222.3||6.87||240.4||17.1%|
|Professional occupations in health, nurse supervisors and registered nurses [D0-D1]||461.4||2.81||565.8||3.18||104.4||7.4%|
|Technical, assisting and related occupations in health [D2-D3]||520.5||3.17||656.5||3.69||136||9.7%|
|Occupations in social science, education, government service and religion [E]||1396.1||8.51||1648.9||9.26||252.8||18.0%|
|Occupations in social science, government service and religion [E0 E2]||722.5||4.41||944.6||5.31||222.1||15.8%|
|Teachers and professors [E1 E130] (12)||673.6||4.11||704.3||3.96||30.7||2.2%|
|Occupations in art, culture, recreation and sport [F]||484.4||2.95||600.5||3.37||116.1||8.3%|
|Sales and service occupations [G] (11)||3896.9||23.77||4428.6||24.88||531.7||37.8%|
|Wholesale, technical, insurance, real estate sales specialists, and retail, wholesale and grain buyers [G1]||530.8||3.24||561.2||3.15||30.4||2.2%|
|Retail salespersons, sales clerks, cashiers, including retail trade supervisors [G011 G2-G3]||1026.7||6.26||1135.3||6.38||108.6||7.7%|
|Chefs and cooks, and occupations in food and beverage service, including supervisors [G012 G4-G5]||520.3||3.17||616.3||3.46||96||6.8%|
|Occupation in protective services [G6]||220.3||1.34||255.7||1.44||35.4||2.5%|
|Childcare and home support workers [G8]||192.5||1.17||232||1.3||39.5||2.8%|
|Sales and service occupations nec||1406.4||8.58||1628||9.14||221.6||15.8%|
|Trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations [H]||2444.7||14.91||2668.8||14.99||224.1||15.9%|
|Contractors and supervisors in trades and transportation [H0]||244.7||1.49||300||1.69||55.3||3.9%|
|Construction trades [H1]||360.2||2.2||405.8||2.28||45.6||3.2%|
|Other trades occupations [H2-H5]||880.8||5.37||926.5||5.2||45.7||3.2%|
|Transport and equipment operators [H6-H7]||615.6||3.75||683.2||3.84||67.6||4.8%|
|Trades helpers, construction, and transportation labourers and related occupations [H8]||343.4||2.09||353.3||1.98||9.9||0.7%|
|Occupations unique to primary industry [I]||583.8||3.56||560.1||3.15||-23.7||-1.7%|
|Machine operators and assemblers in manufacturing, including supervisors [J0-J2]||814.5||4.97||656.4||3.69||-158.1||-11.2%|
|Labourers in processing, manufacturing and utilities [J3]||201.6||1.23||152.4||0.86||-49.2||-3.5%|
|Source: Statistics Canada. Table 282-0010 - Labour force survey estimates (LFS), by National Occupational Classification for Statistics (NOC-S) and sex, annual (accessed: January 28, 2015). Major occupational categories shown in bold.|
Strikingly, a lot of job growth was concentrated in the lowest paid broad occupational category of sales and service workers, including jobs in retail sales, restaurants, hotels and child care. The total number of these jobs rose by 532,000, representing 37.8% of all job growth or more than one in three of the new jobs. The proportion of sales and service jobs in total employment rose from 23.8% to 24.9% between 2006 and 2014.
Sales and service jobs provided average pay of $16.40 per hour in 2014. (Statistics Canada Table 282-0070.)
There was also strong job growth in mainly public sector occupations, notably in professional and technical occupations in health care and in social science occupations including teachers. The proportion of all workers in these two categories combined rose from 14.5 to 16.1% between 2006 and 2014, and jobs in these two categories contributed more than one in three or 35.1% of all new jobs.
This underlines the continued importance of public services in creating reasonably good jobs, despite austerity programs imposed by the federal government and some provinces since 2010. Health care professional occupations provide average pay of $35.35 per hour, and supporting occupations in health provide average pay of $23.18 per hour. Occupations in social science and government provide average pay of $28.06 per hour.
The picture in terms of mainly-male blue collar employment has been mixed. There was significant job growth in the broad trades, transport and equipment operators category, that includes construction trade workers, and where pay averages $24.49 per hour. However, employment shrank in occupations in processing and manufacturing as well as in primary industry occupations providing pay of $20.68 per hour and $22.40 per hour respectively.
The proportion of all jobs in the three broad blue collar categories combined fell from 24.7% to 22.7%. This net fall likely shows that job growth in construction occupations related to the expansion of the oil industry and in housing did not fully offset job losses in manufacturing and in the forest industry.
Elsewhere, there was growth in professional occupations to be found mainly in the private sector, such as professional occupations in business and finance, and jobs in natural and applied sciences. Pay in these occupations average $34.49 per hour and $34.36 per hour respectively. Notably, employment in the highest paid category, management occupations, has shrunk from 9.2% to 8.0% of all jobs.
On balance, the quality of new jobs judged in terms of their occupational level has been mixed, but a lot of good job growth has been in mainly publicly funded services while a lot of private sector growth has been in the lowest-paid category.
Another way of looking at job quality over time is to calculate the change in the ratio of the median hourly wage to the average hourly wage. The median is the precise mid point of the overall wage distribution, such that half of all workers earn more and half earn less. If the median rises compared to the average wage, it suggests that relative pay is rising for the lower paid. By contrast, if the median falls compared to the average wage, it suggests that relative pay is increasing for the higher paid.
The ratio of the median to the average wage in fact fell from 87.8% to 85.7% between 2006 and 2014. Put another way, the average wage rose by more than the median wage, indicating that wage gains were relatively concentrated among higher paid workers and/or that most of the job growth has been in lower-paid occupations. (Calculated from Statistics Canada Table 282-0070.) Unfortunately, no further data on wage inequality are currently available.
Good jobs are a central mechanism in the creation of shared prosperity. What matters for Canadians is not just the number of jobs, but the quality of jobs in term of pay, benefits and job security. On these measures, the Harper job record is mixed at best.
Certainly jobs have been created since the government took office in 2006. However, in 2014 there was considerably more slack in the job market than was the case in 2006, especially in Ontario and British Columbia. The employment rate of young people has declined significantly and the employment rate of “core age” workers has also slipped. Job growth since 2006 has been disproportionately concentrated in part-time jobs and lower paid occupations, and there are indications that pay inequality has increased.
Photo: 44313045@N08. Used under a Creative Commons license.