09/19/2013 12:47 EDT | Updated 09/19/2013 12:56 EDT

EI Benefits Harder To Get Than Ever: Economist


Canadians who lose their jobs are less likely to get EI benefits than at any other time on record, economist Erin Weir reports at the Progressive Economics blog.

Statistics Canada reported Thursday that the number of EI recipients fell by 2.1 per cent in July, to just under 504,000 recipients.

That “brings the number of beneficiaries to a level similar to that observed before the start of the labour-market downturn in 2008,” StatsCan reported.

This would be good news, were it not for the fact that the total number of unemployed is still about 300,000 higher than it was before the Great Recession.

There are just short of 1.4 million unemployed people in Canada today, versus 1.1 million in September, 2008, when Lehman Brothers collapsed, triggering the global financial crisis.

According to Weir, who works as an economist for the United Steelworkers, that means the proportion of unemployed Canadians receiving regular EI benefits was 36.5 per cent as of July, the lowest on record.

As recently as 2007, StatsCan data shows 45 per cent of unemployed qualified for EI benefits.

Weir also noted that the number of Canadians applying for the first time for EI, or renewing their EI benefits, jumped by 3.4 per cent, suggesting Canada’s job market weakened even as EI benefits rolled out to fewer people.

The Harper government toughened EI rules earlier this year, creating more complex standards to keep benefits and a new requirement that EI beneficiaries who have used EI frequently have to take any job available to them and accept as much as a 30-per-cent pay cut.

The premiers of the Maritime provinces have been particularly vocal in their opposition to the changes, arguing the new EI policy will devastate their seasonal industries, which often rely on employees collecting EI during the off-season.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty announced a freeze on EI premiums earlier this month, which will keep rates at current levels for three years. Flaherty estimates the move will save taxpayers and employers $660 million in 2014.

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