VANCOUVER—As Canada experiences a record-low unemployment rate, some are warning the metrics used to measure the health of the workforce for over 70 years don’t say enough about the quality of the jobs created or lost.
A new report released by Statistics Canada’s analytics branch showed Canada’s unemployment rate was below 6 per cent at the end of 2017, and more full-time jobs were created in the same time frame. British Columbia had a lower unemployment rate than any other province at just 4.6 per cent.
Jenn McRae, B.C. lead organizer of the Urban Worker Project, said labour market indicators measured monthly by Statistics Canada — which include employment, unemployment, and full-time versus part-time job numbers — aren’t enough to paint a picture of jobs in Canada.
“The labour market has changed drastically,” she said, but the way Canada measures the health of that market hasn’t kept pace.
The Urban Worker Project is a group that advocates and provides services for Canada’s independent workers, which includes freelance, contract, temporary workers and anyone employed in the “gig” economy. A 2017 Deloitte study estimated 6.1 million Canadians may work in this type of employment, up 1.3 million from 1997.
Independent work is less stable than permanent, full-time employment and may also offer fewer benefits. Addressing the issues these workers face, McRae said, begins with measuring them.
Statistics Canada tracks full-time and part-time jobs, as well as the number of people who are self-employed, but it doesn’t currently have a way of capturing everyone employed in the “gig” economy.
“I think we need to know a lot more, qualitatively speaking, about the types of jobs that are being created,” McRae said.
Sylvia Fuller, an associate professor at UBC who specializes in work and labour, said the labour indicators tracked by Statistics Canada are “critical.”
“Having a job or not having a job makes a big difference to people’s income security,” Fuller said. “But we’re missing some other indicators of job quality.”
Those could include tracking wage inequality, the gender wage gap and the level of flexibility people have in their work. These factors are included in some Canadian surveys, but they don’t occur monthly like the labour force survey, nor do they receive as much attention as the unemployment rate.
“There might even be some argument to making some of these measures monthly — because part of what it speaks to is what gets reported on, what gets noticed, and treated as important,” Fuller said.