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.