With close to 46, 000 Canadians getting pink slips in December, Canadians are getting the picture that the economy is not as rosy as the Harper government says it is. We have been fed the myth that our economy is not only doing fine, but that we are world leaders. Unfortunately, we are not.
We know we shouldn’t make sweeping generalizations based on one month. But the December jobs report caps off a very disappointing year for job creation in Canada. Except during the height of the recession, 2013 had the slowest job creation since 2001. We now have an unemployment rate that is above that of the United States.
In fact, we haven’t been doing that well for a long time. Our employment rate of 61.6 per cent in December, the ratio of employment to working age population, is nowhere near the pre-recession high of 63.5 per cent, reached pre-crash in 2008. Internationally, Canada ranks 20th out of 34 OECD countries in net job creation. Countries such as Germany and Australia are better at creating jobs.
As for the jobs that were created, much is left to be desired. Many of the jobs have been in typically low-paying occupations. Also, according to Statistics Canada, about four out of 10 jobs have been temporary or precarious employment – a type of employment that lacks benefits, pensions or job security.
We still have over 1.3 million unemployed Canadians, with persistently high youth unemployment. And three million people live in poverty.
This poor jobs performance is creating a very rickety economy. Forty-two per cent of Canadians are living paycheque to paycheque. We continue to have stagnant income growth for the middle class. Combined with the rising cost of living this has led to record debt levels.
What are the implications for Canadians? Far too many Canadians face tough decisions such as paying the bills or buying food. Each month, more than 800,000 Canadians turn to food banks to put food on the table.
As professor Paul Kershaw from the University of British Columbia has pointed out, the typical full-time young worker has to save for 10 years to put a 20 per cent down payment on a home. That’s twice as long as a generation ago.
On the other end, according to Jim Leech, president and CEO of the Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan, Canadians are only setting aside 5.5 per cent of their income for retirement – drastically lower than the 20 per cent Canadians saved in the 1980s. Combined with the 60 per cent of workers who have no workplace pension, the “golden years” don’t look so golden. This will push some into poverty or limit others’ ability to be full consumers when they retire. Both scenarios hurt families and the wider economy.
But don’t worry – Jim Flaherty believes we have nothing to fear because our fundamentals are sound. Perhaps sound for some but not for the majority of Canadians.
It has been five years since the financial crisis and we’ve had very little progress. Where are the policies to create good jobs with benefits, job security and pensions?
We can’t continue to have this mediocrity. Canadians deserve a government that understands the challenges that middle class families are facing – the challenges of stagnant income, unemployment, precarious work, record debt levels, pensions and increasing cost of living. They need better.
Art Eggleton is a former Toronto mayor, Member of Parliament, and is currently a Canadian Senator.
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