Why Research Long-Term Unemployment?
Long term unemployment is commonly defined as unemployment lasting for longer than six months. Since the Great Recession of 2008, long-term unemployment has remained at persistently high levels in both Canada and the United States. For example, in the Province of Ontario, the share of the unemployed who were without work for six months or more was 11.7% in January 2008. In January of 2015 that figure stood at nearly 21%. In Missouri, an average of 31% of unemployed jobseekers had been jobless for six months or longer in 2014. The problem of long-term unemployment appears even more pressing if it is defined to include not only those unemployed for six months or longer, but also people who want to work but have given up active job-seeking as well as people who are underemployed. In Canada, for example, the underemployment rate in 2013 was 14.2%, which is twice the rate of unemployment. Long-term unemployment presents immense challenges for individuals including social marginalization, financial insecurity, detrimental health outcomes, and stigmatization. Long-term unemployment also makes other forms of labour market disadvantage worse. For example, research shows that racialized people and older workers are disproportionately represented among the long-term unemployed.
While more people are experiencing long-term unemployment, recent reforms to income security programs have limited the availability of benefits to people who are unemployed. In both Canada and the United States, legislators have introduced tighter eligibility and job search requirements for those seeking benefits. The reasoning behind these reforms is that unemployment is an individual choice, or failure, rather than the result of broader social, economic or political conditions. Additionally, most employment service delivery models that encourage rapid re-employment are often limited in their ability to address the situations of individuals experiencing long-term unemployment. The narrow scope of these responses to unemployment are especially problematic given the complex nature of the challenges that joblessness poses in everyday life. The troubling persistence of long-term unemployment calls for research that can identify the limits of existing policies and service delivery models, as well as opportunities to create support for the unemployed in more adequate and socially just ways.
- Enhance understanding of the nature and effects of long-term unemployment since the 2008 recession.
- Explain changes in public policies related to long-term unemployment and the consequences for service provision and the everyday lives of persons experiencing long-term unemployment.
- Outline possibilities and boundaries that exist in everyday life for persons experiencing long-term unemployment and for service providers.
- Foster opportunities to create better support for persons experiencing long-term unemployment (broadly defined to include precarious employment and unemployment) in more adequate and socially just ways.
We use critical social theory to examine how the problem of long-term unemployment is understood within policies and practices, and how service providers play a mediating role between government policy and unemployed service users. We view the current policy and service delivery context as shaping particular understandings of long-term unemployment. As a result of this, we seek to identify the possibilities and boundaries of these understandings to explain the actions of service providers and those experiencing long-term unemployment. Our approach is equally concerned with how individuals experiencing long-term unemployment negotiate the complexity of everyday life to make ends meet for themselves and their families and contribute to their communities. We are working to create solutions that support individuals not only in their goals around employment, but also around their sense of security in terms of the resources and supports required to manage everyday life
We are employing a method of research known as collaborative ethnography. In collaborative ethnography, research participants are repeatedly invited to shape the research process by raising research questions, providing feedback on findings, and helping to explain findings to the public. This approach allows for research that privileges the perspectives of research participants and creates knowledge that people can use to make change. Using this method, we are able to observe the impact of changes in unemployment insurance (UI) and employment insurance (EI) and support services in both London and Saint Louis. Comparing policy and service delivery practices in these cities sheds new light on similarities and differences in approaches to long-term unemployment as well as the consequences of those approaches for service delivery and everyday life.
Phase 1: focuses on gathering information on public policies and services related to unemployment in both research sites. This phase also includes interviews with 15 key stakeholders (7-8 in each site) who are involved in creating and delivering employment support services in each context. Findings from this phase situate data generation and analysis in the following phases.
Phase 2: involves conducting two interviews with up to 20 front-line service providers at employment service agencies (~10 from each site). We will also conduct two to four observation sessions with each service provider to better understand the service provision process and service provider/service seeker interactions, as well as service providers situated understandings of long-term unemployment. This phase concludes with two service provider focus groups (one per context) to enable reflection on the findings.
Phase 3: will generate data with 15 individuals from London and Saint Louis who are accessing employment support services and self-identify as long-term unemployed. In a number of meetings spread across six months, interviews, participant observations, and other experiential methods will be used to determine how people navigate service delivery practices and everyday life during long-term unemployment.
Phase 4: will focus on bringing findings from Phases 1-3 together and use dissemination as a means of critically considering how policies and practices shape how people think about and act in relation to long-term unemployment. Events with participants from all study phases as well as other key stakeholders will provide opportunities to discuss findings and consider potential next steps for policy and service delivery transformations.
London, Ontario Site
Background and Demographics: The economic region of London is one of two key sites for the Boundaries and Possibilities in the Socio-Political Shaping of Unemployment project. Located in the Southwestern pocket of the Province of Ontario, Canada, the census metropolitan area (CMA) of London includes the cities of London and St. Thomas, the municipalities of Thames Centre and Central Elgin, as well as the townships of Strathroy-Caradoc, Middlesex Centre, Southwold, and Adelaide-Metcalfe, with a population surpassing 474,000 inhabitants (Statistics Canada, 2012a). According to Statistics Canada (2012a), the CMA of London saw an increase of 3.7% in its population between the period of 2006 and 2011. Moreover, in the year 2011 70% of London’s overall population fell within the ‘working age’ range (those aged 15 and 64 years), with 52% of this population identifying as female (Statistics Canada, 2012b). Seniors in London (those aged 65 and above) made up 14.7% of the population in 2011, with females again making up a majority at 57% (Statistics Canada, 2012b). While London is expected to see an increase in its population, it appears that the population continues to age as seniors are continuing to outnumber children under the age of 15 (Statistics Canada, 2012b).
Employment in London: London’s primary economic sectors include: manufacturing, agriculture, life sciences, exports, digital technology, entrepreneurship, and a wide-ranging service industry (Credit Unions of Ontario & Ontario Chamber of Commerce [CUO & OCC], 2015; London Economic Development Corporation, 2015). Considering London’s strong ties to the manufacturing and agriculture sector (both of which were hit hard during the recession), it has been slow to recover in the aftermath of the recession (CUO & OCC, 2015). In fact, between 2000 and 2008, London’s manufacturing sector lost 6,000 jobs (Tiessen 2014). Another 12,000 full-time jobs have been eliminated and replaced with 6,000 part-time jobs between 2008 and 2013 (Tiessen, 2014). While the unemployment rate for London was lower than those of Ontario and Canada between the years 2000 and 2008, the reverse was true between 2009 and 2012 (Statistics Canada, 2013). In fact, the unemployment rate in London increased from 6.9% in 2008 to 9.8% in 2009 (Hennessy & Stanford, 2013). While the unemployment rate has slowly declined over the past few years, this statistic does not fully capture those who have shifted into the precarious labour market or who have discontinued actively searching for employment.
The Role of Higher Education in London’s Population: London is also home to two large post-secondary institutions, Western University and Fanshawe College. While both of these institutions bring large student populations to the region (Fanshawe has a student population of about 13,288, while Western has a student population of 35,807), not all students choose to extend their stay in London post-graduation (London Free Press [LFP], 2011). About 80% of Fanshawe graduates remain in London after graduating (40% of who are originally from London), while only 22% of Western graduates remain in the city (23% of who are originally from London) (LFP, 2011).
Supports for the Unemployed: There are two key income security programs available to the unemployed in London: Employment Insurance and Ontario Works. Employment Insurance (EI) is administered through the federal government. Among its other functions, EI provides income assistance to individuals who find themselves unemployed due to circumstances that are beyond their control. The financial assistance provided through this program is offered for a specified period of time depending on the unemployment rate and the region where the claimant resides. Moreover, in order to qualify for regular benefits, individuals must meet specific criteria including being ready, able, and willing to work, as well as actively searching for employment. Ontario Works (OW) is a means- tested income security program offered through the Government of Ontario that functions to provide those who are facing economic hardship with income support and/or support in their search for employment (Ministry of Community and Social Services [MCYS], 2014).
In order to be eligible for OW recipients must be willing to take part in employability enhancement activities. Across the London region the Ontario Works caseload has steadily increased since 2007, with 11,000 cases recorded in 2013, and forecasts predicting a continued and rising need well into 2017 with an estimated 11,300 cases (The City of London [TCOL], 2014). Of those cases exiting the Ontario Works program, only 22% are exiting to employment (TCOL, 2014). The ramifications of the 2008 recession continue to be felt by the region, and there is mounting evidence that income security programs provide inadequate support for the unemployed (Hennessy & Stanford, 2013). The Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Training, Colleges, and Universities also runs Employment Ontario (EO), which helps to connect Ontarians with jobs and new training opportunities. London is home to a well-developed network of employment services with a strong history of collaboration. There are 9 full-service organizations that are funded through EO to help support jobseekers in their search for employment. These organizations work in close collaboration with other agencies that provide specialized services, including literacy upgrading, basic skills training, crisis counseling, personal counseling, clothing for job interviews, and settlement services among others. The employment support sector in London is represented collectively through the Employment Sector Council of London-Middlesex.
London’s Strategic Plan: London’s economy is facing significant challenges that have become more pressing since the 2008 recession. The Strategic Plan for the City of London (TCOL, 2015) highlights the need to diversify its investments among different sectors in order to create a more resilient economy. It encourages fostering partnerships with local organizations to keep the local economy active (TCOL, 2015). For example, the London Economic Development Corporation (2015) highlights growth in the technological sector, often resulting from the creation of start-up companies developing new uses for digital media. Moreover, the city plans to use these partnerships to create innovative employment opportunities, while focusing on removing barriers to employment and recruiting diverse individuals (TCOL, 2015). The Strategic Plan also identifies urban regeneration and innovation at the local, regional, and international level as key solutions to further economic development. While considerable progress has been made, the region continues to confront economic challenges in its efforts to return to its pre-recession form.
St. Louis, Missouri Site
Background and Demographics: The economic region of St. Louis is the second of the two key sites for the Possibilities and Boundaries in the Socio Political Shaping of Unemployment project. Located in the state of Missouri, United States of America (U.S.), St. Louis sits along the western bank of the Mississippi River. While the census metropolitan area of St. Louis MO-IL includes 7 counties in Missouri and 8 counties in Illinois (St. Louis Regional Chamber, 2014), for the purposes of this research, we will be focusing on St. Louis City. According to the City of St. Louis (2011), the boundaries of St. Louis City were established in 1876 when the home rule charter was instituted to identify St. Louis City as an independent county. In the early 1900s, St. Louis thrived with its access to rail and water transportation and central location in the U.S., and the population peaked in the 1950s (City of St. Louis [COSL], 2011). By the 1980s, St. Louis’s population fell to roughly 450,000 following the migration of many residents to surrounding counties (COSL, 2011). Between 2008 and 2014, St. Louis City saw a marked decline in population from 356,730 to 318,496 (Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis [FRED], 2015). Today, the population of St. Louis City just surpasses 317,000 inhabitants (FRED, 2015). Moreover, in the year 2010, during the sharpest decline between 2008 and 2013 (FRED, 2015), 70.5% of the population fell between the ‘working age’ range (those aged between 16 and 65), with 35.8% of this population identifying as female (United States Census Bureau [USCB], 2010). Seniors over the age of 65 made up 11.0% of the population in 2010, with females making up slight majority of this population with 6.8 (USCB, 2010).
Employment in St. Louis: Over the past decade, St. Louis has seen substantial layoffs and closures of major companies in and around the St. Louis area. As of May 2014, the primary economic sectors in St. Louis included: office and administrative support, sales, food preparation and service, healthcare, education, and transportation (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). In an article published by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch (Gallagher, 2015), St. Louis is currently experiencing a rut in both healthcare and education, both of which actually grew during the Great Recession of 2008 until 2012 (Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015). The local automotive industry was hit hardest during the Recession with the closures of two large automotive plants (Chrysler and Ford) (Gallagher, 2015). The peak of the unemployment rate came in 2009 following the start of the recession and the simultaneous closing of the St. Louis Chrysler plant, with the rate skyrocketing from 7.0% in January of 2008 to 12.5%, in June of 2009 (FRED, 2015b). The unemployment rate in St. Louis City is typically higher than the overall St. Louis metropolitan area, and that reigns true today: as of August 2015, the city’s unemployment rate was 6.5% while the metropolitan area was at about 5.0% (FRED, 2015c). While the unemployment rate has slowly declined over the past few years, this statistic does not include those discouraged workers who have either stopped searching for work or who are working part-time but would rather work full-time.
The Role of Higher Education in St. Louis’s Population: St. Louis City is saturated with many colleges and universities, including Saint Louis University, Washington University of St. Louis, Harris-Stowe State University, Fontbonne University, and the systems of St. Louis Community Colleges. While many stakeholders state that there is a “brain drain” among the colleges in the St. Louis area, in 2013 it was reported that St. Louis was 10% more educated than the United States as a whole (Ihnen, 2015). Likewise, in 2013 there were almost 183,000 more people in St. Louis with at least a bachelor’s degree than in 2000 (Ihnen, 2015). Although many studies suggest that there is an increase in the number of college graduates in St. Louis, the number of university graduates who actually remain in St. Louis city is unknown.
Supports for the Unemployed: There are two key income security programs available to people who are unemployed in St. Louis: Unemployment Insurance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Unemployment Insurance (UI) is a joint federal-state program aimed at providing income assistance to individuals who find themselves unemployed at no fault of their own or with reasonable cause related to the employer or work (U.S. Department of Labor [DOL], 2015). The financial assistance provided through this program is offered for a specified period of time, depending on the region where the claimant resides. The maximum number of weeks an individual is able to qualify for UI in Missouri is 20 weeks, with the national average resting at 26 weeks (Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 2014). To be eligible for UI benefits, individuals must meet specific criteria related to the quality of their work and income prior to becoming unemployed. Some individuals who file for UI benefits are also directed to State Employment Services to receive assistance in looking for a job. Claimants who aren’t initially directed to Employment Services may still be eligible for those employment services (DOL, 2015). If an individual is working a part-time, that person may also be eligible to receive partial UI benefits.
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a program designed to provide cash benefits to low-income families and promote job preparation by requiring participation in employment and training services. In Missouri, TANF applicants must be Missouri residents and be legal caretakers of a child under the age of 18 or a child intending to graduate high school by age 19. There are additional eligibility requirements for the program, including specific criteria for current income, criminal status, and drug testing. Under the employment and eligibility requirements, the applicant must complete a certain number of hours of training or employment activities based on the age of the children in the household and the number of parents in the household. (The Missouri Department of Social Services [MDSS], 2015) The federal cap for receiving TANF is 48 months. As of March of 2015, it was estimated that there were about 73, 323 people receiving TANF benefits in Missouri, with 60% of those people being children. The average cash benefit per household is about $227 per month (Young, 2015).
Strategic Plan for Economic Development in St. Louis: Following the 2008 recession, the Mayor of St. Louis City and the St. Louis County Executive designed a plan for an economic partnership between St. Louis City and County (St. Louis Economic Development Partnership [SLEDP], 2013). While there has historically been tension between St. Louis City and County, both parties recognized the need for an integrated economic platform and established this collaboration on August 1, 2013. The purpose of this economic merge was to provide business growth and development across the spectrum of employers to position the St. Louis metropolitan area for future economic success (SLEDP, 2014). The St. Louis partnership will work with a number of local organizations to promote entrepreneurial opportunities, job start-up, trade and investment, and redevelopment of underutilized real estate throughout the city. One primary organization is Accelerate St. Louis (SLEDP, 2014), an organization dedicated to reshaping the St. Louis region by providing information and resources to startups, entrepreneurs, and investors (Accelerate St. Louis, 2014). The partnership plans to adopt measures from this organization to assess achievement of economic growth (SLEDP, 2104). The partnership also plans to increase usage of the St. Louis’ Foreign Trade Zone in order to increase global trade business and investment (SLEDP, 2014). The St. Louis City and County Strategic Plan for Economic Development also identifies a need for urban regeneration by targeting real estate projects particularly in North City and County (SLEDP, 2014).
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