Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Research: Family and friends as barriers to inter-provincial labour mobility

It is axiomatic for many right-wing commentators that the unemployed should just pack-up and move for a job. Often this suggestion underlies demands for reform of various income support programs, such as Employment Insurance.

For example, consider this 2013 proposal by the so-called Canadian Taxpayers Federation, then fronted by now former UCP MLA Derek “Fildepants” Fildebrandt.

This demand for hyper mobility is often framed as unrealistic. Statistics Canada just released some interesting research about the (un)willingness of unemployed Canadians to migrate for work that may bear upon this policy argument.

The crux of the findings are:
  • Approximately 1% of working-age Canadian migrate inter-provincially each year, a lower level than in past years. The aging of the workforce does not fully explain this decline in mobility.
  • About one third of unemployed Canadians 15-64 reported no barriers to inter-provincial migration for employment. The other two-thirds indicated they would not move to another province or territory to take a new job. 
  • Half of non-movers cited a desire or need to stay close to family and friends as the key barrier to mobility. This reason included a need to take care of relatives and/or consider the wishes of spouses and children.
  • Other barriers included financial and housing barriers. Few unemployed workers (1%) reported credential recognition as a barrier to work-related geographical mobility.
  • Slightly more unemployed Canadians (43%) would accept a job offer in other cities within their home province. The same pattern of barriers appeared for intra provincial migration as did for inter-provincial migration.
  • In both scenarios, men, workers under 40, and unmarried workers were more likely to consider moving than their opposites.
This data supports the assertion that labour mobility is constrained by both economic and social reasons. It also suggests that policy prescriptions that ignore social factors are unlikely to be particularly effective.

An important limitation on this research is that it is based upon current economic conditions. If there was a significant worsening of the economy in a respondent’s region, respondents’ answers might change.

-- Bob Barnetson

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