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A New Perspective on the Unemployment Rate

09/11/2013 05:28 EDT | Updated 11/09/2013 05:12 EST

Is a 7 per cent unemployment rate acceptable? According to some -- absolutely! As a matter of fact, quarterly unemployment never fell below 7% throughout the 1980s & 1990s.

The unemployment rate in July increased to 7.2% from 7.1% in June. This reflected a net job loss of 39,000 jobs across Canada. Now that may seem like a big number but apparently, it's not that bad. If we were to calculate Canada's unemployment rate the same way that the United States does, our unemployment rate would probably be closer to 6.2%.

If you looked at unemployment the way the US does, we would be in pretty good shape, especially if you believe in the natural unemployment rate. If you don't know what the natural unemployment rate is, think of it this way (in extremely simple terms): not everyone can be working at the same time. There will always be people who have quit, been laid-off or were fired. Some people choose not to work because they're looking for the "right" job or have the benefit of help from their parents. Simply put, an economy can never be 100% employed.

The current population of Canada is about 35 million. Our labour force is about 18.9 million. Of the 18.9 million, 17.5 million are working (14.2 million fulltime). The labour force is comprised of people ages 15 and older who are economically active but excludes homemakers and other unpaid caregivers and workers in the informal sector (example: untaxed economic activities like bartering).

If we look back almost four decades to 1976, the percentage of the population that was working was 41.6 % -- today it's about 50%. In 1976 the population was about 23.5 million, yet less than 10 million people were working. Today there are over 17 million working. That's pretty incredible especially when you consider that in order to keep the unemployment rate from rising jobs have to be created as the population rises (remember the 1980s & 1990s).

I think Canada is doing well when you consider that most people who want to work can get a job -- somewhere -- doing something.

Perhaps we're focused on the wrong thing. Maybe we should be looking at the other side of these numbers. Maybe we should rejoice in the fact that 92.8% of the labour force is working. Maybe it's time Canada developed a glass almost full kind of attitude. I know I'm happy to live here and that I'm working because I want to -- but then again I'm self-employed! Maybe being a business owner is something more should consider because, after all, Canada is a land of opportunity.

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