Al­ber­tans’ time on un­em­ploy­ment line tripled over last decade: re­port

Fort McMurray Today - - ALBERTA NEWS - RYAN RUM­BOLT Rrum­[email protected]­media.com

When Wally Fong was let go from his job in April af­ter 20 years with the same com­pany, he de­cided it was time to make a change.

Fong was an op­er­a­tions man­ager at Rogers be­fore be­ing laid off along with about 25 em­ploy­ees who worked un­der him. With a dwin­dling list of job prospects in the in­dus­try, Fong says he’s been look­ing out­side his field of ex­per­tise to find steady work.

“I am in a to­tal ca­reer­change mode right now,” he said. “I’m lit­er­ally look­ing in a dif­fer­ent in­dus­try, a dif­fer­ent every­thing.”

Fong, a fa­ther of two who is also a re­servist in the Cana­dian Forces, said he’s been lucky and hasn’t needed a fi­nan­cial boost from em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance.

But re­ly­ing on gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance is a re­al­ity for many un­em­ployed Al­ber­tans, and new data shows time spent on the un­em­ploy­ment line has nearly tripled over the past decade.

In a re­port re­leased Wed­nes­day by the Univer­sity of Cal­gary’s School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, econ­o­mist Ron Knee­bone found that in Oc­to­ber 2008, un­em­ployed Al­ber­tans spent an av­er­age of 7.4 weeks out of work.

Knee­bone says that num­ber jumped to nearly 21 weeks in 2018, due mostly to the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis and the drop­ping price of oil in 2014.

Knee­bone didn’t of­fer an­swers on how to get Al­ber­tans back to work, but said so­cial as­sis­tance and em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance should be bet­ter aligned with the in­creased av­er­age time spent un­em­ployed.

“If you’ve been a reg­u­lar em­ployee work­ing full time you can col­lect up to 38 weeks (em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance). If you’ve been more of a part­time em­ployee you only get to col­lect 15 weeks,” Knee­bone said.

“It’s quite likely that a lot of peo­ple are not go­ing to sur­vive their EI ben­e­fits — your EI ben­e­fits will run out prior to you find­ing re-em­ploy­ment.”

The re­port showed there are 56,000 Al­ber­tans on so­cial as­sis­tance, roughly dou­ble the num­ber in 2008. Knee­bone said most are sin­gle, un­mar­ried Al­ber­tans who “are only get­ting . . . $627 a month to try to sur­vive.”

While Al­berta’s GDP and the un­em­ploy­ment rate are re­cov­er­ing, Knee­bone urged the prov­ince to take steps to bet­ter sup­port un­em­ployed Al­ber­tans who are ei­ther strug­gling to find work or are re­train­ing.

“The econ­omy tends to be re­cov­er­ing, but that’s not true for ev­ery­one. There are peo­ple who are be­ing left be­hind and they are go­ing onto so­cial as­sis­tance, they are be­ing left on un­em­ploy­ment for a long pe­riod of time.”

Knee­bone said the prov­ince might be able to take cues from Ot­tawa de­pend­ing on how it re­sponds to the clo­sure of Gen­eral Mo­tors’ Oshawa, Ont., plant an­nounced ear­lier this week.

“I’m an­tic­i­pat­ing they are go­ing to come up with dif­fer­ent ways of sup­port­ing those work­ers, I think it’ll be in­ter­est­ing to see if that same sup­port is pro­vided in Al­berta for oil work­ers,” he said.

Ad­vo­cat­ing for in­creased spend­ing or sup­ports for those on so­cial as­sis­tance pro­grams would con­tra­dict sug­ges­tions made last week by Trevor Tombe, of the Univer­sity of Cal­gary’s School of Pub­lic Pol­icy, who ad­vo­cated the prov­ince re­duce spend­ing by $1 for ev­ery $6 spent.

But Knee­bone said Tombe’s re­port high­lighted a bud­getary prob­lem, not a “spend­ing or rev­enue prob­lem.”

Knee­bone sus­pects the ma­jor­ity of those on so­cial as­sis­tance are un­em­ployed “young men from the oil sec­tor,” adding the prov­ince and fed­eral gov­ern­ments “know who’s fall­ing on so­cial as­sis­tance “and “know who’s col­lect­ing EI.”

He urged politi­cians to look at what de­mo­graph­ics are “be­ing left be­hind” and as­sist with re-em­ploy­ment and “re­al­lo­cate spend­ing” to as­sist with re­train­ing pro­grams to help Al­ber­tans get back to work in new fields.

“The higher it goes, the less likely you are to find reem­ploy­ment,” Knee­bone said of the du­ra­tion of un­em­ploy­ment.

“And that’s sim­ply be­cause your skills de­te­ri­o­rate — you’re viewed in the mar­ket as a less-at­trac­tive em­ployee if you’ve been un­em­ployed for half a year ver­sus if you’ve been un­em­ployed for a month.”

Now more than 30 weeks with­out steady work, Fong said he’s been able to pick up some side work to keep money com­ing in and his skills sharp while look­ing for a per­ma­nent job.

Fong said he’s not in favour of the gov­ern­ment tak­ing on the brunt of re­train­ing work­ers, but added there are job train­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties and pro­grams in the pri­vate and pub­lic sec­tors avail­able to Al­ber­tans.

“I don’t think peo­ple are go­ing to turn down a gov­ern­ment pro­gram,” he said. “There’s a de­mand, but the big­gest thing is aware­ness. Enough peo­ple just don’t know.”

For more in­for­ma­tion on Al­berta’s in­come, hous­ing and so­cial as­sis­tance sup­ports visit www.al­berta.ca. You can also look at the prov­ince’s em­ploy­ment ser­vices op­tions on­line for more de­tails on find­ing job train­ing pro­grams.

Re­quests for com­ment from the prov­ince were not im­me­di­ately re­turned.

JIM WELLS/POST­MEDIA

Wally Fong works on his com­puter in his south­west Cal­gary home on Wed­nes­day, Novem­ber 28, 2018. Fong is a tech woker and has been un­em­ployed since April.

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