Interpreting job market statistics demands a lot of care right now. The pandemic has muddied the statistical waters and created the illusion that unemployment rates are significantly higher in Canada than in other countries.
Statistics in the service of partisan politics are often, to put it gently, rather elastic in their meaning, so it is natural to wonder: do we really lead the pack in the dubious distinction of having the highest rate of unemployment?
The COVID pandemic has fast-forwarded many changes in the way employers manage, monitor, and motivate their employees. The future of work is here and will involve more insecurity for many workers. The Canadian federal government can offer better and more appropriate income insurance by responding with both quick and easy, and with more fundamental changes to the Employment Insurance program.
The 2020 Speech from the Throne boldly claims that “This pandemic has shown that Canada needs an [Employment Insurance] system for the 21st century, including for the self-employed and those in the gig economy.” That is a tall order, a major overhaul of a complicated program in the span of the next couple of months, with little or virtually no consultation of stakeholders or engagement of experts outside of the government.
Will Minister Qualtrough, her cabinet colleagues, and of course the Prime Minister, get it right?
After all the need for EI reform has long been recognized, with lessons learned well before the onset of COVID19, but always politically convenient to put off. What does the 21st century hold for us?
Well, we’ve seen a good deal during its first 20 years, and some big lessons are pretty clear.
I draw three lessons, and these should be used to judge what the government has in store. You can read about the first here: Big shocks matter and need a response in real time. This post discusses the second and the reforms it calls for: Lesson 2 is “The future of work has arrived and needs better income insurance for all.”
Benefits for employee initiated time away from work should be delivered through individual accounts, and a new program for maternity and parental benefits should be started outside of Employment Insurance.
More than one out of every three dollars distributed through the Employment Insurance program are for so-called Special Benefits, those parts of the program associated with maternity and parental leave, with caregiving, and with sickness.
The fact that the COVID19 pandemic is a health crisis with important job market consequences has sharply exposed and widened gaps not just in EI’s coverage and delivery of job loss benefits, but also with these Special Benefits.
Constructive reform will require rationalization of coverage for demographic and family risks and should proceed in a way that recognizes both their collective and individual nature, with a delivery design that gives citizens agency in an incentive compatible way.
This can be best accomplished by delivering Special Benefits through individual accounts, while at the same time devising a new program for maternity and parental benefits outside Employment Insurance.
On Thursday, April 9th Statistics Canada will release the results of the Labour Force Survey for the month of March 2020. COVID19 makes this one of the most scrutinized releases in the 75 year history of the survey, reporting as it will on jobs and unemployment during the week of March 15th to March 21st. Here’s what you need to know, and what to look for.
The world of work is changing and creating anxiety about jobs and incomes. There is some overlap on how the major parties contesting the Canadian federal election propose to deal with these challenges, but the Conservatives are definitely the outlier. The Greens score high on vision but low on feasibility, both the New Democrats and Liberals put a list of reasonable proposals on the table, with the Liberals offering a bigger vision that is also feasible. The Conservatives don’t seem to propose anything to address the world of work, imagining citizens as consumers, and implicitly offering a smaller role for government in the workplace.
The “changing nature of work” has to be—right up there with climate change—one of the hottest issues facing Canadians, a big cause of uncertainty and insecurity that underlies the middle class malaise that all of the parties contesting the Canadian federal election are hoping to address.
And quite rightly so. The future of work and globalization should raise a lot of anxiety. Richard Baldwin’s latest book, The Globotics Upheaval: Globalization, Robotics and the Future of Work, argues that as powerful innovations in digital technology meet globalization many higher paid workers in service jobs will be confronted with the disruptions that workers in manufacturing jobs had to deal with during the first wave of globalization during the 1990s.
If, as he argues, its “coming faster than most people believe,” then what should the politicians vying for our votes be doing about it? The first step for public policy is to foster higher and more secure incomes, and to offer better insurance.
How well do the platforms and promises stand up? I offer a review of the four major parties in the same spirit as the excellent review by Trevor Tombe and his co-author on climate change policies. Read “How The Four Federal Parties Climate Plans Stack Up” published in Chatelaine, and you will notice that my labour market and social policy scorecard is essentially the same.
The Canadian federal government should enhance the human and financial capital of children in less wealthy families, enhance market incomes of lower paid workers, and enhance the security of working incomes by adapting three existing programs to new realities: widening their scope, making them more flexible, and making them easier to obtain.
The changing world of work is also a changing world of pay, a world that will likely lean toward greater wage rate inequalities, lower or stagnating incomes for the bottom 40 percent, and greater income insecurity for the broad majority.
I suggest three changes to current public policies that take incremental, but important, steps toward fostering capital accumulation among children from less wealthy families, increasing market incomes earned from that capital for the working poor, and finally enhancing income security for the broad majority.
These policies lean toward encouraging inclusive growth, in which the benefits of the new world of work and pay are broadly shared.
In this post I discuss the first policy proposal, which is:
Enhance human and financial capital by making community colleges tuition-free, and making the Canada Learning Bond more flexible