Visiting Atlantic Canada today, the Prime Minister re-announced the modest EI measures from the Budget.
By way of background, in February, there were 1,448,500 unemployed workers, up from 1,114,000 before the recession. (October, 2008.) The unemployment rate was 7.8% in February, compared to 6.1% before the recession.
Strikingly, in the most recent month for which we have data (January), just 44.2% of unemployed workers were collecting EI benefits, down from over 50% in the depths of the recession when special EI measures were in place, and a lower level than 44.9% before the recession.
Many unemployed workers have likely exhausted their benefit entitlement. 21% have been out of work for more than six months, up from 14% before the recession.
Perhaps wary of a backlash, the Prime Minister neglected to mention the federal government announcement last October that the Extended EI Benefit Pilot Project has also been renewed, for two years until September 15, 2012. This effectively restored the extra 5 weeks of benefits in the now expired stimulus package, but only for the 21 EI regions which had unemployment rates above 10% back when the pilot project began in 2005.
This is good news for workers in 21 regions, which cover most of rural Atlantic Canada, rural Quebec and Northern Canada, where unemployment rates have been and remain high. (If the rate in a region falls below 8% for a year, they will be dropped from the pilot.)
But, left out in the cold are EI regions which have high unemployment rates today but used to have much lower levels of unemployment. These include (February Labour Force Survey data based on a 3 month moving average) Niagara (10.2%) and Huron (10.1%). Central Ontario (9.9%); St. Catharines (9.7%) and Windsor (9.7%) fall just short of double digit unemployment rates. Many EI regions in Ontario, including Toronto (8.3%), have unemployment rates above 8%. . The Montreal EI region has an unemployment rate of 8.2%.
Unemployed workers deserve extended benefits in ALL hard hit regions.
Chief Economist, Canadian Labour Congress and CCPA Research Associate.