Employment Financial security Social security Youth

September 2013 LFS: An alternative view. Employment demographics and a broken social contract cont’d

Break out the party hats and kazoos, Canada. The official unemployment rate has dropped below 7%. And just in time for Thanksgiving.

How did it get there you ask? Well…

The monthly changes in the official employment figures are notoriously unreliable. While we can’t vouch for the quality or accuracy of any of the data, the past couple of alternative LFS reports attempted to demonstrate the real, sustained loss in Canadian employment in general and youth employment in particular since the onset of The Great Recession.

According to the LFS data, adjusted for population growth, the Canadian labour market today is 400K jobs short of where it was five years ago.  The change in employment by age group over the last five years is revealing. Youth age 15-24, who accounted for a sixth of total employment in 2008, lost 240K of those jobs. On the other hand seniors age 65+, who accounted for a negligible share of total employment in 2008, saw a surge of 215K jobs. Even adjusted for popuflation, 115K more seniors are working today than were five years ago.

Q: Where are they working?

Figure 1 Employment by age group, Retail and wholesale trade
Chart 1 Employment by age group, Retail and wholesale trade

Source: CANSIM Table 282-0075 Labour force survey estimates (LFS), employees by establishment size, North American Industry Classification System (NAICS), sex and age group, unadjusted for seasonality, monthly (persons), Statistics Canada

A: As shown in Chart 1, increasingly, Wal-mart.

In fact, Retail and wholesale trade (disaggregated data for age 65+ is n/a from StatsCan’t) along with Health care and social assistance accounted for the greatest increase in employment for Canadians age 65 and over, ~30K additional jobs each, over the past five years. This has driven Retail and wholesale trade to the top employer by industry, employing an estimated 74K of the 380K working seniors today. While it’s not shown in the chart, it’s surprising to find the majority of seniors working in the sector are male.

Unfortunately, seniors employment ‘gains’ in Retail and wholesale trade have come at the expense of youth employment losses in the sector. Over the past five years, except for the odd blip (June 2010?), Canadians age 15-24 incurred ~32K job losses in Retail and wholesale trade. Unlike seniors, youth suffered job losses in nearly every sector since the onset of The Great Recession, the greatest being in Manufacturing (~80K jobs lost).


It’s no secret that youth have historically relied on low-paying service sector jobs as their bridge into the labour market. In recent years, they’ve increasingly remained stuck on that bridge as employment quality for all Canadians stagnated. Since The Great Recession, that bridge has been closing on them.

On the other hand, there have traditionally been few seniors working in low-paying service sector jobs. With growing concerns over their future financial security, it appears many have either aged into or (re-)entered the labour market and settled for more precarious, low-paying employment.

This is not what most Canadians would consider fair or just. Kids should have a chance, even if it’s a meagre one, at landing that first job and getting on the path to social and financial independence. Seniors should have the right to retire with dignity and a sense of financial security once they reach age 65.

Unfortunately, short-sighted, narrow-minded recent public policy changes focused on balancing budgets in the midst of a stalling economic recovery have all but disregarded the social contract.

Note to readers:
The data shown in Chart 1 and referenced in the text was seasonally adjusted using X-12 ARIMA from the U.S. Census Bureau.


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