Addressing the ‘lost’ generation?

One of my first and most profound memories as a young government employee in the early 1990s was one where we were trying to determine the ‘available’ workforce in the province.  Essentially, we wanted to determine how many people would be available to work in jobs paying $30k or more.  We looked at the total unemployment workforce, the seasonal workforce (assuming many would be interested in full time work), the employment rate gap (assuming that we should have at least the national level if the economy was strong enough) and those working at $12/hour or less.  When we crunched all these numbers we came up with a ridiculous number of something like more than 50% of the entire current working population.

Anyway, in a meeting about this, a senior official at the department of labour told us there were “10,000 people in the Peninsula alone” that would not work year round even if it was an outstanding opportunity.   He further said around the province that would be well over 50,000 people.  He called them a ‘lost generation’.  They had become used to seasonal work and would not change their lifestyle.

I think about this quite a bit.  The availability of seasonal work is a fine idea.  There are those that would like to supplement family income with just a few months of work and would like to spend the rest of the year working on other pursuits.   The challenge has always been paying them EI not to work.  The assumption (and it is in the rules) is that if you are collecting EI you will take a job if one comes along.  The practice is different.

I raise this because I keep hearing from employers – particularly in rural NB that this issue is not getting any better and in fact may be getting worse.  There is a significant cohort of people who are not interested in full time, year round work even if it pays more than they would have made on EI.

As there are more and more firms bringing in immigrants to work these jobs, I have to wonder if it is not time to seriously rethink the EI system, its incentive structure, etc.   If a person is paid EI because there are no alternatives that is fine but if they are paid EI while jobs go unfilled, that is another.

Again, I want to reiterate I am not against seasonal work any more than I am against part time work.  These can be important options for workers.  Further, I think it would be fine to offer a pay as you go EI program where folks would pay in during their work weeks and collect during their off weeks.

But the subsidization of seasonal work by those who choose to work year round was meant to make up for a lack of work in certain communities.  Now that an increasing number of those communities actually have work – and no workers to fill the jobs – we need to rethink things.

It won’t happen, however.  This is too politically sensitive an issue.    Even if it is hastening the decline of many communities, it remains sacrosanct.

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5 Responses to Addressing the ‘lost’ generation?

  1. oliver says:

    Our EI system is completely broken. Since it is called “insurance” let’s actually run it that way: Reward workers who don’t use it, and charge workers who use it frequently more.

    There should be some sort of max period of time that you pay into EI if you make no claims. Let’s say 10 years. After 10 years, you don’t pay in any longer. If you make a claim, you reset your 10 years.

    Furthermore, if you are making claims EVERY YEAR, your EI premiums should go up, perhaps significantly.

    Let’s not forget that there is more than one season as well.

  2. mikel says:

    The question I always ask when I hear people make that comment is WHAT jobs are you referring to? Are immigrants flocking into the acadian peninsula to fill vacancies? Not likely. They are brought in by Irving and Repsol to fill construction work jobs-jobs which are now gone, leaving a sizeable workforce with low skills.

    Go look at career beacon and tell me what vacancies there can’t find openings. That there are SOME who will choose way of life doesn’t surprise me, I’d love to be one of them. I know many in rural areas who build a house with their parents help on their large rural lot,and basically work enough to keep them up. Now, there may be a MORAL argument to make like they were saying in Toronto where most people simply cannot even ACCESS EI. That’s a problem for the EI system though, its certainly not the fault of those who CAN access the system. Meanwhile, EI is federal money coming into the province-why bite the hand that feeds you?

    There are many WASP’s who have been brought up thinking that if you are not working, you are wasting time-I’m one of them. But that doesn’t mean I think that OTHERS who don’t feel the same way somehow have the high ground. The reality is that we are not SUPPOSED to be working as hard as our parents. Society is SUPPOSED to be getting better-not worse. Don’t fault those who are politically active enough to make life a little better in tough situations. Believe me, there are very few millionaires in rural NB who are also collecting EI.

    If you want to talk about the ‘lost generation’, talk about people like the many people I know who were told in the seventies that teachers would always be needed. They are now flung all around the world teaching english, with no hope of any job in NB.

    But to parse this a little more carefully, take the example of Charles Leblanc. He has a blog, a popular blog, and has constant critics griping at him to ‘get a job’. He eats and volunteers at the soup kitchen, has a small subsidized apartment, and basically lives off welfare. He COULD get a job, but why would he? He gets to do what he loves, and what he gives up are material things, which may be nice, but aren’t that necessary. Now, the RIGHT job he’d probably jump at (he had a job working at the legislature when the government forced the contractor to fire him), but the RIGHT jobs are very rare ANYWHERE, let alone in NB, let alone in rural NB. So while we always get very well paid government flacks telling us how lazy those EI recipients are, the reality is that probably most would jump at their bureaucratic job, and maybe do it just as well-if not better.

  3. Kate says:

    how timely…recently a guest at a neighbour’s dinner party and during polite conversation (my husband kicks me under the table if I breathe politics)another guest told a little historical story about our village (we’re one of those nasty implants from “away” and still learning all the lore) where a local man found all kinds of government grant money to create and maintain a park by the river and harbour, thus creating employment and the ability for the workers to collect “pogey” for the winter. This may have been needed in the 90s, but she then continued with “…what we need in this village is another Mr. H****s to find more grants and opportunities for summer work here.”
    My husband just kicked me under the table.

  4. Kate, nasty implants are very important for New Brunswick. There were ways of doing things that emerged over time as the result of a certain economic context. My point is that context is rapidly changing and maybe we need to evolve the approach.

  5. mikel says:

    Why would it not be needed NOW as opposed to the 90’s? What that lady means, that others may be too idealistic to believe, is that summer work is virtually all they have any hope of getting. Plus, many of those people are talking about their KIDS, they work for the summer and go to school in the winter.

    And let’s not throw stones here. You think Fredericton doesn’t get involved in getting grants? I know a guy who used to work for NORCAT, thats Northern Ontario Economic Development, and they always raved about the former President because he was so good at getting federal money. That’s what bureaucrats DO. I know a guy did the same thing, got federal money to build a cross country ski trail during a summer when his daughter couldn’t find work. He hired her as foreman, and it was a great learning experience that helped her in her career. Those ARE good people to have.

    So that lady knows exactly what she’s talking about. With all the federal money going to build prisons and jets, why SHOULDN”T some money build some parks and provide at least SOME jobs? When RIM says they are moving to Caraquet and offering $65,000 jobs in a high tech industry that they and the government will train people for, and THEN local people are saying “Nah, I’d rather live off $1000 a month for the winter”, THEN I’ll start believing the ‘stories’.

    But I don’t remember a SINGLE article about Bathurst Mines having a hard time finding workers, and there are precious few immigrants in Bathurst, and those were crummy mining jobs.

    Now, for ‘evolution’, thats a different matter. Unfortunately, the ONLY solutions we ever see is Oliver’s, where people are told to cut back and basically MOVE (which is what it amounts to). So, as an economic developer, bring the JOBS to these rural outposts, THEN you can make the argument. But by the way, if you look at the EI rules, they are quite clear, and how you collect EI is determined by how many jobs are available in that area, that’s why people in southern ontario were complaining-because there ARE jobs that they can find. In other words, YOU bring the jobs, and the EI problem corrects ITSELF.

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