EI sys­tem is bro­ken


It’s taken me 10 years or so, but I fi­nally get it. I fi­nally get why the fed­eral govern­ment changed the name of UI, or un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, to EI, or em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance. If you re­call, the of­fi­cial mes­sage was that the term “un­em­ploy­ment” car­ried with it a some­what neg­a­tive con­no­ta­tion, whereas, by re­mov­ing the ex­tremely neg­a­tive pre­fix of “un,” those re­ceiv­ing un­em­ploy­ment ben­e­fits wouldn’t feel so bad about not work­ing.

It stands to rea­son that if you can re­move cer­tain so­ci­etal stig­mas at­tached to your cir­cum­stances, you can be­gin to feel bet­ter about your­self, and maybe, just maybe, things will be­gin to im­prove. If that’s so, then the ad­ver­tis­ers of that “un-cola” didn’t get the memo.

The govern­ment mes­sage was ac­tu­ally de­signed to keep con­sis­tently em­ployed work­ers from re­al­iz­ing that chang­ing the name of the pro­gram to “em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance” is a more ac­cu­rate way to de­scribe an in­sur­ance plan that long- term, full- time work­ers pay for that they never use.

Noth­ing re­ally wrong with that. A so­cialdemo­cratic coun­try with a con­science should have a plan in place that can pro­vide an eco­nomic bridge for em­ploy­able peo­ple who, per­haps through no fault of their own, find them­selves un­em­ployed from time to time. What we didn’t plan for was an eco­nomic bridge that has be­come an un­sup­port­able, four-lane high­way with too much traf­fic. Can you even build a bridge with­out some con­nec­tion to the land at ei­ther end?

There was a time I had to avail of un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance, so I’m not just shoot­ing in the dark. It was in 1975, af­ter I got out of the navy while dur­ing a re­ces­sion, in a job mar­ket where the only ap­par­ent skill-set I pos­sessed at the time was mon­i­tor­ing Russ- ian sub­ma­rine traf­fic.

De­mand for that ex­pe­ri­ence was at an all-time low. It’s even lower now. I was not even able to get a job pump­ing gas, which, by now, is about as rare a skill-set as mon­i­tor­ing Rus­sian sub­ma­rine traf­fic. Pity. In or­der to get my weekly un­em­ploy­ment cheque, I had to stand in line at the un­em­ploy­ment of­fice, talk to a coun­sel­lor and pro­vide de­tails about jobs I had ap­plied for the pre­vi­ous week, then re­view all the job post­ings they had to see if I was el­i­gi­ble to ap­ply.

I wasn’t long avail­ing of an­other govern­ment pro­gram called vet­eran’s as­sis­tance to get my butt in school, in or­der to learn some­thing other than mon­i­tor­ing sub­ma­rine traf­fic, Rus­sian or other­wise. The rest is just more his­tory.

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