Heather Scoffield: Waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations is no way to help jobless Canadians

Good overview with some breakdowns by visible minority groups and women:

It was never going to be “happy Friday” with new unemployment numbers for January on deck, but there were plenty of signs it was going to at least be “silver-lining Friday.”

Alas, it’s neither of those. The labour market in January was the bleak mid-winter we feared, especially if you’re young, or a person of colour, or female, or a part-timer — or, God forbid, all of those at once. And policy-makers seem poorly equipped to do much about it for now, except to counsel patience.

About 213,000 jobs disappeared in January as some of most populated areas in Canada — namely Ontario and Quebec — tightened up pandemic restrictions. It means that the second wave is taking a serious toll, eroding the employment gains of the summer and fall and making a quick recovery more elusive.

At our worst point last April, when a firm lockdown was in place, about 5.5 million people were without work or dealing with reduced hours because of the pandemic. Summer allowed many people to return to work or find new jobs, but we’ve lost ground in December and January. And now, there are still 1.4 million affected workers, many of them in the same groups of people who were hit by the first wave.

Canada’s unemployment rate rose to 9.4 per cent in January, up from 8.8 per cent in December.

Digging a bit deeper, Southeast Asians saw their unemployment rate rise by 7.6 percentage points in January to 20.1 per cent — one in five. Black Canadians are at 16.4 per cent unemployment, up 5.5 percentage points from a month earlier.

Of Black women who are holding onto their jobs, almost a third were working in the health-care sector, and a third of those were in low-paid positions such as orderlies or nurses’ aides. In other words, they are holding onto pandemic employment by taking on poorly paid and often dangerous positions.

Unemployment among young people rose 1.9 percentage points to 19.7 per cent, and the job losses were particularly striking among part-timers and working-age teenagers.

Women lost twice as many jobs as men in January, especially mothers of young children.

We’ve been here before. The first wave showed us the same disturbing patterns, as the pandemic restraints shut down businesses involved in accommodation, tourism, travel, arts and culture, and food services.

But there were some signs that maybe the second wave would be kinder, and that employers were learning how to roll with lockdowns and constantly changing constraints. More than 5.4 million people are working from home, the highest number ever. High-income jobs have stayed protected. Capital markets are surging, creating a wealth effect. Housing prices are up. Commodity prices are up. And the federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars trying to keep the economy afloat. Job postings, according to Indeed Canada, are looking a lot like they did a year ago, before the pandemic.

But solutions for workers in public-facing industries are few and far between.

“To state the obvious, we didn’t figure it out,” said Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

The Conservatives called the job losses “devastating,” and Leader Erin O’Toole committed to “charting a new course” that sees Canadians put to work by “reshoring” the manufacturing of our own essential goods, rather than importing them from China.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the jobs report was “difficult” and, urging patience, pointed to all the income and business supports the federal government has provided to tide people over.

“We are there to support Canadians and we will continue to be until get through this, with income supports, with vaccines, with health measures, with the supports that people need,” he said.

But actual jobs while we continue to wait for the pandemic to be conquered? Not so much.

Business groups are pushing for the widespread adoption of rapid testing and contact tracing, so that public-facing firms can open up safely and bring their workforces back.

“We need to keep Canadians safe and working,” Nord says.

There’s no doubt that’s easier said than done. Contact tracing becomes cumbersome when case levels are high. And rapid tests can be clumsy and imprecise, leaving many provinces reluctant to deploy them widely. Nord also suggests more aggressive efforts to match job-seekers with job vacancies, and intense retraining programs for long-term unemployed people.

It’s clear that full-fledged recovery efforts can’t start until the pandemic is under control, and that’s certainly not imminent. In the meantime, we owe it to those same groups of unemployed people who are repeatedly pummelled by the pandemic to brainstorm some better answers.

Biding our time in the face of on-again-off-again vaccination schedules and new variants is not an answer.

Source: Heather Scoffield: Waiting for COVID-19 vaccinations is no way to help jobless Canadians

Discrepancy between Elections Canada, StatsCan reports likely due to social desirability bias

Of note. The limits of self-reporting and social bias:

Despite an 11-percentage-point discrepancy between self-reported and actual voter turnout, a recent Statistics Canada survey still provides valuable information on the electorate and voting trends, experts say.

The StatsCan survey, which relies on self-reporting, collected data by adding five election-related questions to the 2019 Labour Force Survey, which is distributed to approximately 56,000 households. The survey does not include Indigenous people living on reserve, full-time members of the Canadian armed forces, prisoners, and households in remote areas with very low population density.

Because the survey misses certain groups, it actually looks more like the electorate than the entire population, Richard Johnston, professor at the University of British Columbia and Canada Research Chair in public opinion, elections, and representation.

“The people who are missed by the survey tend to be the sort of people who are generally socially disconnected and are least likely to be subject to kinds of social pressure that get people to the polls,” Prof. Johnston said.

There was a similar gap between the reported turnout numbers after the 2015 election. Actual turnout in 2015, as reported by Elections Canada, was 68 per cent. The StatsCan post-2015 election report had self-reported turnout at 77 per cent, a difference of nine percentage points.

The data in the Elections Canada post-election survey is more accurate, said Lydia Miljan, University of Windsor political science professor, as the StatsCan survey relies on self-reporting. Prof. Miljan said the social desirability bias explains much of the discrepancy between the StatsCan survey and Elections Canada report.

“It’s not socially desirable to say, ‘I don’t vote’, so that’s why you always end up having a higher rate of self-reporting as opposed to what’s actually happening,” Prof. Miljan said.

Despite the discrepancy, Prof. Miljan said StatsCan’s report is valuable for the details it offers on demographic splits, which can “give a good trend analysis from one election to another.”

“If you’re trying to get inside the guts of social, psychological, or political differences in turnouts, these surveys are pretty good. It’s just that the baseline is too high,” Prof. Johnston said.

No interest in politics still top reason

A disinterest in politics was the top reason voters, in every age group except non-voters 75 years and older, cited for skipping out on the 2019 federal election, at 35 per cent, StatsCan’s report suggested. The same reason topped the list in the 2015 and 2011 federal elections. No data exists for prior elections, according to the agency, as the survey was inaugurated after the 2011 election. In 2019, the surveyed showed 23 per cent of Canadians did not vote.

Non-voters between 55 and 64 were the most likely to cite no interest in politics as the reason for not voting, at 38 per cent. Non-voters between 18 and 24, and 25 and 34, commonly thought of as the least-engaged age groups, were actually less likely than older voters to cite no interest.

Interest in politics appears to sharply increase between those who are 65 to 74 years old and those 75 years old and older. For voters between 65 and 74, 34 per cent said they lack sufficient interest, but that number drops to 21 per cent for voters 75 and up.

Women also appear to be generally more interested in politics than men, with 32 per cent of women and 37 per cent of men reporting a lack of interest as the prime reason for staying home.

Among the provinces, voters in Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Quebec were the most likely to say they lack an interest in politics. Quebecers appear to be the most disengaged, with 41 per cent lacking an interest, compared to 40 per cent in Nova Scotia and 39 per cent in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Other voters reported they were too busy to vote, making it the second most-common reason at 22 per cent, which is also consistent across the three elections surveyed.

Younger voters were much more likely to cite being too busy than older voters. Voters between 25 and 34 years old were the most likely to be too busy, with 30 per cent reporting it as their reason. As voters get older, it drops precipitously. Just 16 per cent of voters between 55 and 64, seven per cent between 65 and 74, and four per cent older than 75 report being too busy to vote. Discrepancies in gender are virtually nonexistent, with 22 per cent of men and 21 per cent of women reporting being too busy.

The third most-common reason was suffering from an illness or disability. In 2019, 13 per cent of non-voters said an illness or disability prevented them from voting, up from 12 per cent in 2015 and nine per cent in 2011.

In a supplementary post-2015 report from Elections Canada that broke down turnout by demographics, youth voter turnout was actually 57 per cent. A similar supplementary report for the 2019 election has not yet been released.

Self-reported turnout amongst voters aged 55 and up has held steady around 80 per cent over the past three elections, but self-reported turnout amongst those 44 and younger jumped at least 10 points between 2011 and 2015, and remained high for the 2019 election.

“In 2015, there was a sort of social movement quality to the Trudeau victory, and the evidence suggests that the turnout surge in 2015 was a surge of younger people looking for a new kind of politics. And a lot of those younger people stuck around in 2019,” Prof. Johnston said.

Newfoundland and Labrador had the lowest self-reported turnout in the 2011, 2015, and 2019 general elections. In 2019, provincial turnout was 68 per cent, seven points lower than Manitoba at 75 per cent, the province with the second lowest turnout rate in 2019. Manitoba faced severe storms during advance polling time, causing evacuations, power outages, road closures, flooding, and some polling stations to close. Elections Canada set up an additional polling station at the University of Winnipeg for voters from four electoral districts, and teamed up with the Canadian Red Cross to transport voters. Elections Canada reported that 270 people used this option. Emergency workers helping with disaster response were also provided with additional polling stations, and 592 voted at the additional stations.

Prince Edward Island had the highest turnout in the 2011, 2015, and 2019 elections, topping 80 per cent each time. In 2019, turnout was 82 per cent, down from 86 per cent in 2015. Prof. Miljan and Prof. Johnston said P.E.I is usually the most turnout-heavy province in both federal and provincial elections.

Despite P.E.I.’s high turnout, the rate actually decreased the most between the 2015 and 2019 elections, from 86 to 22 per cent. Quebec, from 78 to 76 per cent, and British Columbia, from 79 to 76 per cent, also had turnout drops. Turnout largely remained the same in the remaining provinces.

Prof. Johnston provided an anecdotal explanation for the Atlantic provinces turnout numbers. He said the social pressure to vote in P.E.I is potentially higher given the population density, 25.1 people per square kilometre, which is the highest in the country. Newfoundland and Labrador is the province with the lowest population density, at 1.4 people per square kilometre.

“There’s a sense in which someone from P.E.I is going to feel social pressure to turn out because they see each other more regularly and they know each other. There are social networks that reinforce participation,” Prof. Johnston said.

Turnout increased the most between 2015 and 2019 in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Alberta turnout rose from 77 to 80 per cent, and Saskatchewan from 77 to 81 per cent. 

Prof. Miljan suggested one reason for increased turnout in Western Canada was due to frustration with the Trudeau government.

“When people don’t vote, it means they’re pretty happy with the regime and they don’t feel it [their vote] matters one way or another,” she said. This theory suggests that Western voters are “not happy with the regime and they really wanted to make sure their voices were heard.”

Source: Discrepancy between Elections Canada, StatsCan reports likely due to social desirability bias

Did losing the long-form census weaken Canada’s jobs data?

toronto-census-nhs-756x1024More on the Census and National Household Survey, and Kevin Milligan’s analysis of how the shift has degraded the quality of the Labour Force Survey:

I say ‘presumably’ because the most recent complete methodology document I can find is from 2008. In that 2008 methodology document, it is very clear that the Census plays a very important role in the methodology of the Labour Force Survey. In fact, a quick ‘control F’ search of the document reveals the word ‘census’ to appear 127 times. Looking through these instances, you can see the Long-Form Census was used in a variety of ways. Sometimes, it was to cross-check an assumption or a decision they made in designing the Labour Force Survey. In other places, it is clear they used the Long-Form Census explicitly to pick which households get surveyed. To give one precise example, page 19 of the methodology document explicitly references income taken from the 2001 Census—and income is not available on the Short-Form Census.

In short, I think Mr. Smith’s ‘myth’ is a miss.

I have complete confidence in Mr. Smith’s claim that the 2015 Labour Force Survey methodology now uses only the Short-Form Census for selecting and weighting households. However, it is equally clear that until now the Labour Force Survey relied on the Long-Form Census. This change raises several important questions: Why make a change? Why was the National Household Survey discarded? Is the Labour Force Survey improved by ignoring the National Household Survey? Why and how?

I have a pretty good guess why Statistics Canada discarded its own expensive National Household Survey for designing the Labour Force Survey. The reason: the response rate from the National Household Survey is low, and varies strongly within regions. As one example, above is a map made by Dwight Follick that compares the response rate at the ‘dissemination area’ level for Toronto from the 2006 Long-Form Census and the 2011 National Household Survey. Similar maps are available from Mr. Follick for Montreal, Ottawa, London, Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. The pictures aren’t pretty—the response rate fell dramatically, rendering the results of the National Household Survey much less reliable.

Mr. Smith might be correct that the Labour Force Survey methodology changes aren’t large enough to make much difference. But we will never actually know, since we can’t compare the new results to the previous methodology because the 2011 Long-Form Census doesn’t exist so we can’t check.

I will continue to use and trust the Labour Force Survey, myself. However, the switch to the National Household Survey has degraded some of the tools that Statistics Canada has used until now to make the Labour Force Survey—and other Statistics Canada products—reliable.

Did losing the long-form census weaken Canada’s jobs data? – Macleans.ca.

How StatsCan lost 42,000 jobs with the stroke of a key – Macleans.ca

Ouch. More a management than a technical issue, in terms of the lack of communication and risk analysis. And possibly partially a result of reduced capacity on the management and quality control side as a result of reduced funding:

Fast forward to July. StatsCan technicians were updating the Labour Force Survey computer systems. They were changing a field in the survey’s vast collection of databases called the “dwelling identification number.” The report doesn’t explain what this is, but it’s likely a unique code assigned to each of the 56,000 households in the survey so that analysts can easily track their answers over time. They assumed they only needed to make this change to some of the computer programs that crunch the employment data, but not all of them.

The changes themselves were happening piecemeal, rather than all at once, because the system that collects and analyzes the labour force survey is big, complicated and old it was first developed in 1997. Despite being a pretty major overhaul of the computer system, the report makes it clear that the agency considered the changes to be nothing but minor routine maintenance. After updating the system, no one bothered to test the changes to see if they had worked properly before the agency decided to release the data to the public, in large part because they considered it too minor to need testing.

One of the programs that was supposed to be updated — but wasn’t — was the program that fills in the blanks when people don’t answer all the survey questions. But since technicians had changed the identification code for households in some parts of the system, but not others, the program couldn’t match all the people in July survey to all the people in the June survey. The result was that instead of using the June survey results to update the July answers, all those households who didn’t answer the questions about being employed in July were essentially labelled as not in the labour force. With the push of a button, nearly 42,000 jobs disappeared.

… There is a particularly illuminating passage in the report that speaks to problems of miscommunication and misunderstanding at the agency:

“Based on the facts that we have gathered, we conclude that several factors contributed to the error in the July 2014 LFS results. There was an incomplete understanding of the LFS processing system on the part of the team implementing and testing the change to the TABS file. This change was perceived as systems maintenance and the oversight and governance were not commensurate with the potential risk. The systems documentation was out of date, inaccurate and erroneously supported the team’s assumptions about the system. The testing conducted was not sufficiently comprehensive and operations diagnostics to catch this type of error were not present. As well, roles and responsibilities within the team were not as clearly defined as they should have been. Communications among the team, labour analysts and senior management around this particular issue were inadequate.”

How StatsCan lost 42,000 jobs with the stroke of a key – Macleans.ca.