Friday, February 26, 2010

Longer hours, less pay - welcome to a new era

Ever feel like you’re working longer hours than you used to, but still not getting ahead?
Maybe that’s because you are.
The average Canadian now puts in more hours on the job than ever (or at least since 1976, when the federal government started tracking such things). Paid work takes up more than 10 per cent of a typical Canadian’s total year these days, compared to eight or nine per cent in days past.
Worse news still: We’re putting in longer hours but bringing home the same old paycheque. In B.C., the average weekly earnings in 2008 were $780.85. Adjusted for inflation, that’s just $7 more a week compared to a decade earlier.
If you’re the type who likes to ruminate on what trends say about where the world is going, you’ll want to bookmark an intriguing federal Web site, The Indicators of Well-Being in Canada. It tracks statistics in 10 different “areas of well-being” - from work life to family life, from educational status to community connectedness.
I dove into the work category this week and was intrigued by the story the numbers told. It’s certainly not the tale of a new leisure class that the futurists of 20 or 30 years ago were predicting.
The stats get really interesting when you separate the genders.
It’s true that on average, Canadians overall are putting more time than ever into paid work. But most of the Canadian workforce is female now, almost 62 per cent, and that’s skewing the averages when it comes to what’s really going on for working men and women.
So it turns out that only female workers are actually logging longer work weeks. Women now work half an hour more a week on average than they did in 1976, while men work 78 minutes less.
Women continue to earn much, much less than men - $661 a week on average, compared to $903 for men. Take (small) comfort from knowing the wage gap is ever so slightly less now than it was a decade ago, having narrowed by a whopping $19 a week.
Men used to outnumber women in union jobs, but for the last six years it’s been the other way around. Overall unionization rates are falling for both genders, however, with less than a third of Canadian workers now employed in a unionized environment. The Indicators site takes that as worrying news, given that “unions provide workers with a support network to address various work-related issues affecting their well-being.”
On the bright side, men and women alike are experiencing shorter periods of unemployment. Ten years ago, people were typically out of work for six months or more when they lost their job. Now, the average Canadian is back in the saddle within 14.8 weeks - slightly faster if female (13.2 weeks) compared to male (16 weeks). One exception: Workers over the age of 55, who on average will be out of work 23 weeks.
Both genders are experiencing fewer on-the-job injuries.
It’s definitely men who come out the big winners on that front. Their work-related injury rates have fallen dramatically in the last couple of decades, from 44.6 per 1,000 to 23.4. Injury rates for women in that same period fell a more modest six percentage points to 13.6 per 1,000.
Are those improvements because we got a whole lot better at preventing workplace injuries? Could be, but a more likely explanation for falling injury rates is that Canada just doesn’t have as many risky resource-industry jobs anymore.
Unfortunately, that might also explain the lack of growth in average earnings over the years. Yes, more people got injured back in the days when resource industries were booming, but at least they were well-paid.
As for the percentage of Canadians out of work, well, that’s been all over the map for the period of time tracked on the Indicators site.
The worst year on record in the last 35 years was 1983, when the unemployment rate hit 12 per cent. Ten years later, it shot up nearly as high, then settled into a more modest six per cent for most of the years after that. It’s now at 8.3 per cent nationally, and just under that in B.C.
And here’s another sign of changing times: The unemployment rate used to be higher for women than men, but that trend flipped in the 1990s and now it’s men who consistently experience higher rates of unemployment.
Check out the report at Scroll down to “Knowledge Centre” and you’ll find the link there. Happy browsing.

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