Job growth: east gets burned by central heat
The good thing about living on the wrong side of the national tracks is the boom-bust cycles felt by the rest of the country are mere blips here. The down side, other than never really hearing the boom, is that national policy is made for the big, fat middle of the country.
The national economy is heating up, so Bank of Canada interest rates are rising. If job numbers are an indication, Nova Scotia’s economy isn’t even warm, yet folks here struggle with the same rates that are taken in stride from Quebec City to Victoria.
Businesses from coast to coast hate the federal government’s proposed small-business tax changes, which can be made to sound reasonable west of the Saguenay. East of the big Quebec river, a small business is more often scratching out a living than rolling in dough. Ottawa’s shot at fairness missed the target and hit Atlantic small businesses where they live.
In the true east, poor and rarely free, the Canada Health Act may be the most frequently contravened law of the land.
Nova Scotia’s top-flight medical care is concentrated 300 kilometres from Yarmouth and 400 from Sydney, as a result, citizens are regularly denied their statutory right to free-of-charge insured medical services.
People at the geographic extremes, and many points in between, incur significant personal expense to get to and from Halifax, where the specialists are. That’s unfair and contrary to the spirit, if not the letter, of the act. But the province will tell you paying for transportation is out of reach.
Equalization doesn’t equalize much, and the formula for the big national transfers, like health, won’t change to accommodate a region with no political clout.
This regional self pity came on with August job statistics heralding the lowest national unemployment rate since before the big, crooked U.S. banks sent the world into a depression, while the jobless numbers climbed in Nova Scotia.
Even where there is more work, it isn’t necessarily good work. Across the country, and here more so, full-time jobs are on the decline, replaced by an increase in part-time work. If you stock shelves for six hours a day and deliver pizza for six more at night, you might survive, barely.
People who are bullish on Halifax point to the cranes on the skyline as proof that the good times are rolling, or about to. Halifax is growing and there’s evidence more young people than usual are sticking around.
But, before country boys pack up all their cares and woes and desert Egerton and Argyle for the bright city lights, they might want to check on which city is glowing with work.
Every year an outfit called Express Employment Professionals calculates the country’s hottest job markets. The methodology wouldn’t pass muster at the Sobey School of Business, but for what it’s worth, Halifax doesn’t make the list. Adding insult to that injury, Moncton comes in at number 14, Fredericton and Saint John are ranked in the 20s and St. John’s sneaks in tied for the 50th and final spot.
While jobs may be hard to come by in Halifax, among provinces, Nova Scotia is listed fifth for job availability. Like I said, the methodology is suspect.
What isn’t suspect is the province’s anemic job growth. Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate was 8.9 per cent in August, up a full percentage point from July and half a per cent from a year ago. The unemployment rate in Halifax jumped a full percentage point year-over-year.
All these statistics tell us that something isn’t working around here, besides a whole lot of people. On the other hand, 8.9 per cent isn’t bad, historically. Since 1980, the average unemployment rate in Nova Scotia has been closer to 10 per cent but still consistently two or three points above the national level.
Those Atlantic Canadians who do work earn, generally, six to eight grand a year less than their more affluent countrymen to the west. Job one, we are told, is to trap bright young people in the region. It’s a tough sell.
The most frequently advertised jobs around here are in retail sales — cashiers and clerks, construction labourers and mechanics. It’s hard to talk a kid with a graduate degree into those gigs, unless he or she knows cars.
Your mechanic’s hourly rate makes your doctor’s look sick.