My column in the TJ this a.m. comes at it from a different angle. My intent with the column is to systematically make the points that I try to convey on this blog: the underfunding of economic development; the misallocation of scarce resources to prop up bad business models for political reasions; new economic sectors with high growth potential; making the most of the resources you have; effective immigration; etc.
But this morning, it’s more about setting the table – as I do here on occasion. Providing the masses with a little taste of the kind of data they rarely see in print or hear in the media – but that are critical to understanding the structural challenges in the economy. An understanding that is the basis on which actual change can be predicated. For example, why do we still have 100,000 collecting EI each year? Sure, between 3k and 5k are maternity leaves and probably a few thousand more are actual EI between jobs – the the rest are seasonal workers. Why do we need to foster seasonal work when we have low unemployment? Total EI income in New Brunswick is up 29% from 2000 to 2005 while total employment income in New Brunswick is up 19%. I thought things were booming? Samuel LeBreton told us last month that things were so hot in the labour market that he was expecting things to cool off. What a crock.
The new government funding program for small biz still provides dough for seasonal tourism jobs. After all we have learned.
I told you before but it is worth reiterating that there is value in work. That statement should be axiomatic but it is not anymore. Even the father of the US welfare state – FDR – was worried that just giving unemployment men money would be a disincentive to work so he made all the unemployed workers (that were able to work) work for their unemployment cheques. Some of the most impressive public works in U.S. history were built by people that were unemployed during the Depression.
In the 50s and 60s in New Brunswick, people working in seasonal industries would just rotate around. Guide in the summer, work in the woods in the fall and plow snow in the winter. Then, with EI, we started making each of those a discrete job and we formalized through government funding a permanent seasonal workforce subsidized in their off months with their neighbours EI premiums.
I think we now have an opportunity to rethink this. To look at someone having a summer job and a winter job.
This is more than just about EI. It’s about income and productivity. To have 100,000 workers idled for periods ranging from a couple of months a year to six months a year is deeping draining on productivity and income and breeds a large underground workforce.
It’s time to get on with it.