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?
At 8.1% the unemployment rate in the United States is about one percentage point above the 7.2% currently reported for Canada, but this gap would be almost two percentage points if the Canadian rate was measured in the same way as the American.
This revealing picture from the recent Canadian federal government Budget paints a more accurate portrait by using unemployment rates defined in a similar way across the two countries.
This morning Statistics Canada reported that the unemployment rate increased to 7.6%, confirming a rising trend since July of last year and still significantly above the low of about 6% just before the recession took hold in the autumn of 2008.
This statistic is probably the closest a number can come to having a human face; it relates directly to the hardship Canadians experience in providing for their families, saving for their retirement, and just meeting their day-to-day needs.
But in the end we can’t clearly see the faces of real people behind this number, which at best is an incomplete picture of waste and hardship.