BY MARK LEMSTRA, HEALTH ISSUES
Work is obviously an important predictor of health outcomes.
For that reason, last week's announcement from Statistics Canada was very good news for Saskatchewan. The agency reported that our unemployment rate in April was 3.7 per cent - the lowest in Canada.
We are used to hearing our province leading Canada in other categories like poor health outcomes, unfortunate social statistics and high crime rates. To think that we are leading Canada in a positive outcome makes us all feel good.
But do we really have the lowest unemployment rate in Canada or is there another explanation? It seems odd that Saskatchewan has the worst overall health and social and justice outcomes in Canada, yet it boasts the lowest unemployment rate.
The unemployment rate is based on the Labour Force Survey, which excludes many First Nations on reserves. Statistics Canada has assigned two media contacts for the LFS and its dissemination. The first, Vincent Ferrao, provided clarification from the original press release that the unemployment rate for all aboriginal people living off reserve was 11.3 per cent. However, department head Sylvie Bourbonnais, elaborated that the unemployment rate in Saskatchewan's on-reserve population is at least 27.1 per cent.
This statistic requires some clarification. It is well known that many reserve communities do not allow the federal government to complete the census or other national surveys. For that reason, the onreserve population is higher than that reported by Statistics Canada. As well, those living in deprivation are less likely to complete voluntary surveys, especially inquiries about employment. As such, the agency reports that 29.3 per cent of those eligible to respond to the LFS did not do so.
For example, seven First Nations communities in Saskatchewan completed their own survey in 2010 with universal completion rates. Although the federal government estimated that they had 3,104 residents, they actually had 4,088 residents - an underestimate of 24 per cent. As well, Statistics Canada estimated that 27.5 per cent of males and 20.7 per cent of females were unemployed but the communities found that 60.3 per cent of males and 62.9 per cent of females were unemployed. As such, the unemployment rate in Saskatchewan reserve communities ranges from at least 29.3 per cent to a more probable 61.6 per cent.
Let's see how the numbers change when our entire provincial population is included. Saskatchewan's current population is about 1,117,503. Only 578,400 are actually in the labour force, however, once one excludes seniors, children, First Nations living on reserve and so on. Of those, 557,000 are employed and 21,400 are unemployed for an unemployment rate of 3.7 per cent.
According to StatsCan, at least 35,755 First Nations living on reserve in Saskatchewan are eligible to be in the labour force. With a low unemployment estimate of 29.3 per cent, this translates to 10,476 adults. With a revised labour force of 614,155, and at least 31,876 unemployed in total, our lowest revised estimate of unemployment is 5.1 per cent in Saskatchewan.
However, with a population underestimate of 24 per cent, the true number of First Nations people on reserve eligible to be in the labour force is 44,336. With a more realistic unemployment rate of 61.6 per cent, this translates into 27,311 unemployed First Nations adults living on reserve, which totals 48,711 unemployed adults in Saskatchewan. This equates to a true unemployment rate of 8.4 per cent when all of our residents are included, rather than 3.7 per cent. Because of our relatively large number of First Nations citizens, we obviously do not lead the country in unemployment.
Here is the good news.
Statistics Canada found that the unemployment rate among First Nations living on reserve with a college certificate was 16.9 per cent whereas the unemployment rate for those with a university degree was only 6.5 per cent. In other words, public policy with a focus on education, and appropriate support to encourage academic success, would greatly assist our First Nations that the federal government has chosen to ignore.
In fact, a United Nations envoy concluded on May 12 that "it is difficult to reconcile ... the distressing socio-economic conditions of indigenous peoples ... that have reached crisis proportions" in a country as prosperous as Canada.
Part of the solution is not eliminating vulnerable populations from our economic statistics. In plain language, the first step is admitting we have a problem that needs to be addressed.