Statistics Canada reported today that the number of Canadians receiving Employment Insurance rose by 4,230 in December, a month in which unemployment rose by 6,100. The proportion of unemployed workers receiving benefits remained below 39% (i.e. 544,720 beneficiaries out of 1.4 million unemployed).
Although December saw relatively little change in these totals, it capped off a year in which Canada’s EI system sharply contracted. During 2011 as a whole, the number of EI recipients fell by 109,350 while the number of unemployed workers declined by just 11,700.
The implication is that many newly unemployed workers were unable to access EI benefits and/or many former EI recipients exhausted their benefits without finding jobs. The Budget 2009 extension of EI benefits for claims established by September 2010 ran out in 2011.
The Labour Force Survey indicates that unemployment rose by a further 21,400 in January. With unemployment on the rise, the federal government should consider improving the accessibility and duration of EI benefits in its upcoming budget.
Erin Weir is an economist with the United Steelworkers union and a CCPA research associate.