Flaherty wrong: Labour problem not solved by EI reform.

I was born in 1970, when the FLQ broke out and the Beatles broke up. It was also six years after the birth of the last baby-boomer. Thanks to frisky folk wishing to proliferate their post-world-war confidence by, well, proliferating, an elephant sized generation was born. It became a force to shape the world for a century. When it needed homes, we built homes. When it needed schools, we built schools. The systems of government, economics, commerce, healthcare and infrastructure were shaped, squeezed, stretched and swelled by it. Now, as boomers begin to retire, new economic issues are emerging.

The labour force participation rate is the term for the percentage of Canadians either working or looking for work, currently about 66 per cent. Baby boomers’ retirement will decrease this percentage by vacating old jobs. Then their visits to restaurants, spas, golf courses, and health clinics will create new jobs. This will create a labour shortage.

I’m puzzled about the logic Finance Minister Jim Flaherty used this week that amendments to employment insurance will deal with this impending shortage. Economically speaking, the amendments will stimulate unemployed people to return to the workforce. This, however, is short term and nominal. The real issue, not addressed, is the declining labour force participation rate. Forcing small numbers of workers into ‘suitable jobs’ will not address this. In fact, his logic is contradictory.

Jobs will open up once boomers retire; jobs for all skill levels. The problem isn’t where people work, but rather that Canadians aren’t replenishing the workforce. Unless Mr. and Mrs. Canadian start making babies with accelerated frenzy, this trend is simply not going to change. Why are we messing with a few unemployed people when predictions cite more jobs than job seekers? Nice try, but EI restrictions will only hinder those already in difficult situations.

Pressuring workers to move for work won’t work for those under 20, over 50, or married to someone working. Forcing older workers into minimum wage jobs will increase unemployment for youth who typically hold these positions. Relying on small business to train overqualified workers, only to replace them when they leave for more suitable positions will impede business. Expecting seniors to work where they’re not comfortable will compel them to give up altogether, ironically increasing the hidden number of ‘discouraged workers’ who leave the labour force.

Conversations about flipping hamburgers and driving taxis are irrelevant. Jobs will be available, and we’ll need workers. Rather than manoeuvring a few unemployed Canadians, we need to attract those who are not participating but who would in the right conditions. And we need to recruit more. Promote the training of health care and senior service positions. Improve immigration laws. Infuse funding into education, research, small business and corporate investment. Encourage workplace flexibility to attract women, youth and seniors. Simplify foreign credential recognition to employ educated immigrants in their expertise. Deal with the real problem rather than forcing youth to move away from home or lab techs to work in coffee shops.

I understand all jobs are valid and important. I’ve worked multiple jobs in my lifetime, doing what needed to be done to put bread on the table. Changing unemployment policy, however, is short sighted. The elephant is about to roll over, and if we aren’t nimble about it, we’re going to be crushed.

Dee-Ann Schwanke’s first job was in a bakery, scrubbing eight-year-old grease off cinder blocks in the deep fryer room.


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