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Solutions, not statistics, needed to address Alberta's unemployment level

McLeod Brian-mug
Columnist Brian McLeod

From what I can tell, Alberta’s current unemployment rate is 6.7 per cent. Only P.E.I., New Brunswick and Newfoundland managed to achieve even higher rates. However, the more you study the issue of unemployment, the more you discover that some “magic accounting” has massaged the numbers. For example, the following groups of people are not considered “unemployed”:

• Individuals involved in volunteer work.
• Individuals providing house work in their own homes.
• Prisoners, pensioners and students.
• Full time students who are looking for work after their current term of education is complete.
• People who have given up searching for work (I shudder to think of how many hundreds of thousands of discouraged individuals are in this group).

As you dig deeper into this subject, you also discover that employment stats don’t just include people working 40 hours per week. As long as an individual worked a few hours in the week, they are considered employed and therefore are not “unemployed”.   

Even worse is the definition of “full employment”. Apparently, our governments have decided that an unemployment rate of 3 to 6 per cent should be used to define full employment. Under this definition, Alberta really only has an unemployment rate of 0.7 per cent, a rate that we all know makes absolutely no sense at all.  

In reality, we have many people in this province who are unemployed and looking for work, unemployed and have given up looking for work, people who are “barely” employed, and people who are “underemployed” (i.e.: not working in areas where they are trained and/or working far less than a full work day).  

Unfortunately, “playing with the statistics” doesn’t provide any help to the people who are suffering from unemployment. What is going on here can be compared to what some nations report for “levels of poverty”. If you lower the poverty level far enough, eventually no one in the country is poor. While the official report indicates no poverty exists, the citizens know this is ridiculous. The same is true with unemployment, or any other statistic. If you start excluding vast groups of people from the unemployment numbers (by simply claiming they are not really unemployed), the “official” level of unemployment looks pretty good. Of course, none of this fools the people, they know darn well that unemployment is rampant, and quickly lose faith in their leaders and their governments. It has been suggested that the “real unemployment level” in Alberta, especially for certain demographics, is approximately 23 per cent. While I don’t know if it’s true, it sure feels a lot closer to the truth than 0.7 per cent! The U.S. situation is even more deceptive – if Canada used U.S. methodology, Alberta’s unemployment rate would be zero.  

I can only dream of the time when our leaders start working on the real problems and come up with real solutions, rather than simply playing games with the statistics. To these same leaders, appreciate that we know what you are doing, and our faith and trust in anything you say is at rock bottom. It is often said that “the first casualty in war is the truth”. Apparently, “the first casualty in government statistics is also the truth”.

Brian McLeod is a St. Albert resident.