Joblessness carries $1B price tag for Peel, Halton regions

Joblessness carries $1B price tag for Peel, Halton regions

For Mississauga resident and mother of two Uzma Hameed, there’s no dollar figure on the value of a decent job that catapulted her out of a toxic relationship. But across Peel and Halton regions, unemployment has a very real price tag: almost $1 billion, according to a new report.

The study is the first of its kind in the province and measures the impact of joblessness in Peel-Halton through social assistance expenses, employment programs, as well as lost tax revenue. It concludes that in 2016, the cost in these two Ontario regions alone was at least $938 million.

The report produced by the Peel-Halton Local Employment Planning Council and the Peel Halton Workforce Development Group also highlighted the impact of underemployment, describing it as a “significant concern for recent immigrants and young job seekers” who found themselves in precarious work even when they pursued advanced education.

Planning Council executive director Shalini da Cunha said supporting unemployed or underemployed workers was money well spent and that she hoped the report would draw attention to the need for early intervention and effective programs for job seekers.

“This is the cost of unemployment, but there is good that’s coming out of this money. It’s doing a lot of good work,” she said.

“This is (workers’) support while they’re going through a rough time and without this support it would probably be very different for them.”

The study relied on federal, provincial and local statistics on employment insurance and social assistance payments, the cost to administer those programs, as well as the cost of Employment Ontario programs.

Some 61,700 individuals in Peel-Halton reported income from Employment Insurance benefits and 41,400 used social assistance in 2016, a combined expense of more than $738 million.

With an unemployed population of 79,820, the cost of Employment Ontario guidance programs came to $200 million.

It was one such program that Hameed says changed her life. Having moved to Canada in 2009 from Pakistan, she says her relationship became turbulent after her then-husband struggled to find work.

Hameed eventually left with her two young children, initially relying on Ontario Works to make ends meet. After signing up for an employment program with Peel Family Services, she found a steady job as an administrator at a recycling company.

“If I didn’t have that help I wouldn’t be where I am today,” she said. “Now I know I am the master of my life. I have money to pay the bills, pay the rent and support my kids.”

The report also conducted a survey of 400 unemployed or underemployed residents in Peel-Halton. While 40 per cent of respondents had a full- or part-time job, 44 per cent were in jobs that were precarious or did not match their skill set.

“A lot of these youth or new immigrants are very qualified but are underemployed,” said da Cunha. “And what does that do to your psyche?”

Research conducted by the United Way in 2015 shows that while Toronto used be the second most equitable of Canada’s largest cities, it now has the highest level of income inequality, due in part to tax reforms and cuts to social benefits. Between 1995 and 2015, Ontario’s low-wage work force skyrocketed by 94 per cent, compared with just 30 per cent growth in total employment.

Some 52 per cent of jobs in the GTA are now precarious, according to research by United Way and McMaster University. The province is currently reviewing a bill passed under former premier Kathleen Wynne aimed at tackling precarious work including equal pay for temporary, casual and part-time workers, two paid emergency leave days for all workers, and a minimum wage bump to $14 in 2018 and $15 in 2019.

“People who are unemployed or underemployed are actually facing a lot of emotional and I’d say mental stress,” said Batool Raza, who moved to Canada last year from Dubai.

“This frustration can lead to a lot of problems for the community as a whole because you end up going for odd jobs and trying to make ends meet,” she said.

The Peel-Halton study did not quantify the broader social impact of joblessness and underemployment, but noted that “employment status has been shown to be a significant determinant of health and mental health status.”

“This has an impact not only on individuals, but on potential public health costs,” the report says.

In Toronto, life expectancy for low-income earners is two to 4.5 years less than the city’s highest income earners.

Raza, who was able to find a job in her field of marketing and project management through Sheridan Community and Employment Services, said many new Canadians struggle to land good jobs — and lack the resources or connections to find them.

“You basically burned all your ships to come here,” she said.

“What we want to highlight is that supports really help these people,” added da Cunha.

Sara Mojtehedzadeh is a Toronto-based reporter covering labour issues. Follow her on Twitter: @saramojtehedz

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