EI claims show recession’s bite

The worst recession in decades is not choosing favourites, hammering Canadian workers regardless of where they live, new data on employment insurance payouts show.

OTTAWA — The worst recession in decades is not choosing favourites, hammering Canadian workers regardless of where they live, new data on employment insurance payouts show.

The number of Canadians collecting jobless benefits jumped 7.8 per cent to 610,200 in February, the highest level in more than 10 years, reflecting the massive job losses of recent months.

But unlike in the past two recessions, which hit Canada’s manufacturing base hardest, this time workers from coast to coast are taking body blows.

Statistics Canada notes the number of people on EI has risen 21.8 per cent since October, when employment losses began, with all regions showing increases.

Hardest hit in percentage terms were western provinces Alberta and British Columbia, followed by Ontario.

Since October, Alberta has seen a 67.9 per cent increase in beneficiaries, while payouts jumped 39.8 per cent in British Columbia and 28.6 per cent in Ontario, many in the auto sector.

The rise in EI recipients reflects an economy that has shed 357,000 jobs since October, said Benjamin Tal, a senior economist with CIBC World Markets

“It’s like somebody turned off the light in October of 2008, and this is not the end of the labour market pain,” he said.

“The West is suffering from the global recession and Central Canada is suffering from the U.S. recession. The commodity collapse is clearly hurting the West in a significant way, while the slowing auto sector in the U.S. is clearly hurting Ontario’s manufacturing sector.”

In a report being released Wednesday morning, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argues that job losses are happening at a time when Canadians can least afford to be without work.

The report notes that personal savings rates are low, household debt is at record levels, and EI pays less than during the recessions of the early 1980s and 1990s, while covering fewer of the jobless.

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