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Long-Term Unemployed Suffer More

According to just-published Stats Can figures, 272,300 souls were out of work in this country for six months or more last year. That’s almost two times as many as six years earlier. And there were 96,400 folks who sidestepped gainful employment for a year or longer last year — more than double 2007 levels.

So while the overall employment picture in this country is a generally positive one — with Finance Minister Joe Oliver trumpeting that his government has created over a million net new jobs since the recession — it’s folly to lose sight of the forest for these trees.

Arguably more important is the statistic enumerating those Canadians enduring long-term unemployment, or without a job for at least a half a year.

The longer the duration of unemployment, history has shown, the more damaging it is — to the individual and the system, both. The prospects for the unemployed dim as the interval of time “between jobs” increases. 

Speculation on the reasons for this phenomenon abounds. Prominent among them: concern that time away from the workforce is also time away from a facility with the cutting-edge technical skills required by today’s employers, that the length of time a person has been out of work is indicative of his on-the-job productivity and discrimination.

On the latter, a doctoral student from Boston’s Northeastern University sent out some 5,000 fictitious CVs in 2012 and uncovered a systematic bias against the long-term jobless, regardless of how their qualifications compared to competitors who’d been unemployed for a shorter period.

ImageWhen the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston published his findings, 80 big American companies including PepsiCo and Pfizer publicly pledged not to favour shorter-term unemployed individuals in their hiring.

The average spell of unemployment in Canada shrank from 26.5 weeks in 1997 to 14.8 weeks in 2008. But when the economy contracted, that figure climbed back up to 20.2 weeks in 2012 (and if you were 65 or older, the duration actually clocked in at 32.2 weeks).

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