Working Longer: Are You Seasonally Adjusted?

Seems fitting this Labour Day week that the subject of aging Boomers exiting the labour force deserves a comment or three. Firstly, it’s important to describe what the definition of the term labour force means. The Statistics Canada version leaves it wide open to a paint by numbers application, at one point stating: “Together the unemployed and the employed constitute the labour force.”

If you stir that paint mix up with another term participation rate, what do you get? – “the number of employed and unemployed as a percentage of the population.” This is not to be confused with the employment rate which is “the number of employed persons as a percentage of the population 15 years of age and over. The rate for a particular group…is the number employed in that group as a percentage of the population for that group”.

65 Plus in deep space

Now, clear about all that, if you look at the participation rate of Canadians 65 and older as of 2014, it was 13.4%, which is up from 11.3% in 2010. Sounds positive, somehow supporting the claim that more people of so-called “retirement age” are opting in to working longer, but that is a huge swath of an age group to cover – 65 and older. It’s as if we’ve lost the line of sight, like looking into the concept of deep space.

deep spaceThe decision to work longer is a personalized decision based on a number of different conditions in one’s life course. Even though attitudes to this have shifted with the Boomer population, the participation rate of the 65 plus, in the not so crisply measured labour market, has not ballooned significantly yet.

One way to get a better read on modern reality would be to break down that “65 and older” category into maybe three age bands.

Perhaps after that a good start would be to take a fresh look at the narrative of what a labour force really is in a global context of rapid and disruptive change including the factor of demographic shifts.

An intractable problem?

A Conference Board of Canada piece in Globe & Mail August 28th raised some points about improving labour market policy to help deal with Canada’s aging demographics. The five options discussed are not new. I’ve sat on and listened to several panel discussions on labour force or “talent market” issues over the last decade and we all tend to chew on the same language presented in this article.

The Conference Board article’s headline question frames around the current federal election – “Which party is ready to deal with Canada’s aging demographics?” Well, it will take more than what one political party can hope to do to make a difference. In a June 10th G &M article by Robert Brown and David Foot we hear – “…we see mounting political pressure to solve what is basically a demographic (and thus mostly intractable) problem.”

Working longer continues to redefine itself in our current times, well outside the prescribed boundaries of seasonally adjusted labour force data, and I’m not so sure that we’re all even attitudinally adjusted.

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