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Canadian Unemployment

In: Business and Management

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A note on Canadian unemployment since 1921
Dave Gower
The recessions of the early 1980s and early 1990s resulted in high unemployment rates. Some people have compared these rates with those of the Great Depression of the 1930s. This note examines unemployment rate data for recent years and earlier in this century.
Since 1945, Canadian unemployment data have been generated by the Labour Force Survey (LFS).
Before that, however, no regular measure was taken. Using various methods, a variety of labour statistics have been estimated back to 1921.
The calculation procedures used for the pre-war data differ considerably from those used for the more recent data.
Therefore, the earlier numbers should be considered only an approximation of what would have resulted if the LFS had been conducted before the Second World War. It is encouraging to note, however, that these early unemployment rate data generally follow trends in other economic indicators.
Any comparison of unemployment rates over such a long period of time must be tempered by the fact that the social impact of unemployment during the 1930s was undoubtedly different from today. The labour force participation of married women was much lower then; therefore, unemployment was more likely to deprive a family of its sole source of employment income. To make matters worse for such families, today's network of social programs was largely absent.
The results
The event often called the Great Depression actually consisted of two cycles: the severe slump of the early 1930s and a lesser downturn in the late 1930s, with some recovery in between. The national unemployment rate in June 1933, at 19.3%, was the worst over the entire period since 1921. It was also about 8 percentage points higher than the highest post-World War II June rate, 11.5%, recorded 50 years later in 1983. The 1983 estimate was about the same as...

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