Family Policy at Work: Employment Benefits, Women, and Labour Force Participation in Canada

Presentation to the West Coast Poverty Center
A Partnership of the School of Social Work, Daniel J. Evans School of Public Affairs and the College of Arts and Sciences
University of Washington, Seattle
May 17, 2010

Slide 1

Outline and Purpose

  • Examine multiple roles of Employment Insurance (EI) policy in Canada
  • Focus on “special benefits” that address family life situations for working people
  • Discuss consequences of recent recession for poverty and families
  • Identify policy effects of EI special benefits for women, and men, and labour force

Slide 2
Unemployment Insurance:

  • a quick history
  • Originally provincial responsibility
  • Great Depression led to constitutional amendment shifting power to federal level
  • UI program introduced 1941
  • Classic roles:
  • Macro-economic stabilization
  • Income replacement for workers
  • Labour force search and re-attachment
  • Major reforms in 1971 and 1996 (EI)

Slide 3
Family-oriented UI/EI
Benefit Programs

  • 1941-75 Dependency Rate
  • 1971 Maternity Benefit
  • 1971 Sickness Benefit
  • 1984 Adoption Benefit
  • 1988 Paternity Benefit
  • 1989 Parental Benefit
  • 1996 Family Supplement
  • 2004 Compassionate Care Benefit
  • 2010-11 Available to self-employed

Slide 4
Newer rationales for EI

  • Income stability for lower-income working families
  • Childhood development
  • Gender equity
  • Equality among family forms
  • Work-family balance

Slide 5
Effects from the 2008-09 economic recession

  • Lost jobs and rising unemployment
  • Reduced work hours
  • Diminished incomes
  • Involuntary part-time employment
  • Non-standard employment
  • Heightened anxiety and stress
  • Household indebtedness
  • Increased welfare caseloads

Slide 6
Outlook for poverty in Canada

  • Recessions create and sustain poverty levels for men and women and children, often for several years
  • Risks of poverty also relate to work:
  • low-wage employment
  • non-standard work
  • self-employed workers
  • involuntary part-time workers

Slide 7
Implications for women

  • Account for 48% of Canadian labour force
  • 56% of non-standard employment
  • Many have insufficient hours to qualify for EI benefits
  • Women in self-employed, part-time and non-unionized work less likely to receive employer-based disability, medical or sickness benefits or pensions

Slide 8
Family trends

  • Most families with young children have two earners
  • Growing share of families with children that are lone-parents
  • High poverty rates among lone-parent families
  • Growing share and salience of common law unions and same sex families
  • Aging families, sandwich generations…

Slide 9
Policy effects
of the EI special benefits

  • Providing return tickets to employment for parents of new children, especially working women who are new mothers
  • Encouraging more new fathers to take leave from work during initial period of childhood development/adoption
  • Stabilizing income for some single mother families

Slide 10

  • Some policy limitations
  • Many workers do not qualify for EI regular and special benefits and and therefore lack coverage
  • Real value of the Family Supplement for has been declining over last decade
  • Sickness benefit limited to just 154 weeks and many workers exhaust the benefit

Slide 11

  • EI a major social insurance program at intersection of labour market, income support, and families
  • A diverse and complementary array of rationales for EI policy in Canada today
  • Image of the citizen here is the worker-parent-caregiver
  • Important role in labour force attachment, family formation, and poverty prevention that needs to be continually monitored and occasionally reformed

Thank you

Michael J. Prince
Lansdowne Professor of Social Policy
Faculty of Human and Social Development
University of Victoria
British Columbia, Canada