High job numbers mask low quality of employment

Nine out of 10 new Canadian jobs are part-time

The surprising employment news released last week — 107,000 new jobs in the month of September — left a number of economists and analysts amazed. Generally, it was taken as good news, something that was in short supply that week, but many didn’t seem to know what conclusions to draw from the unexpected jump.

The Canadian Auto Workers did. The union pointed to the fact that over 90 per cent of those new jobs were part-time. Indeed, since the beginning of the year, full-time employment has made up less than one-third of the growth in employment of 194,000 jobs. Among youth aged 15 to 24, there was a drop in full-time employment in September, as against almost 50,000 new part-time positions. Among adult men, as well, there were six times as many new part-time as full-time jobs. Only adult women had a more even balance of nearly one full-time job for each two part-time ones. This, for the CAW, raises the spectre of employees working two or three jobs in order to make ends meet.

During the last recession, the growth of self-employment was significant, and the trade union movement voiced skepticism about this trend. It turned out that as soon as permanent employment was again available, many of these entrepreneurs eagerly accepted it. Since January, the full-time employment index (2005=100) has been steady, as has the self-employment index. The part-time index has shot up.

Which raises a second union concern. The United Steelworkers marked October 7 as the International Day of Action on Precarious Work. Beginning with the fact that self-employment and part-time employment are both increasing at roughly twice the rate of full-time employment in the longer term, the Steelworkers point to the lack of job security, benefits and pensions, which are more commonly available to full-time employees than to employees with any other status.

The American jobs picture was not as rosy as Canada’s in September, with the unemployment rate having increased by 1.4 percentage point in the past year (though it was unchanged for the month). The Conference Board’s Employment Trends Index, moreover, is pointing towards greater pain on the horizon. That Index, an aggregate of eight measures designed to filter out statistical “noise,” fell from 109.3 in August to 108.4 in September. All eight indicators dropped. The Conference Board is predicting a U.S. unemployment rate of over 7.0 per cent by the second quarter of 2009, up from the current 6.1.

Despite the bounce in equity markets and the growing security in financial markets that were apparent after the Thanksgiving weekend, rough economic times still seem certain. Whether the traditional pattern of full-time employment replacing part-time employment and self-employment as economic growth picks up at the end of this period will continue will be an interesting question to follow.

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