Our Mean McEconomy

  • National Newswatch

If your MP is a Conservative, chances are you recently received a taxpayer-financed mailer from the Conservative Party repeating the government's unceasing boast that “Canada leads the G-7 in job creation.”This mailer feeds off similar self-congratulatory language in the Spring 2013 federal budget and the October, 2013 Speech from the Throne:Claims the budget: “Among Group of Seven (G-7) countries, such as the U.S., Germany and Japan, Canada has had the strongest record of growth and job creation over the economic recovery.”Boasts the throne speech: “Canada now leads the G-7 – in job creation; in income growth; and in keeping debt levels low.”However, what constitutes “growth” – in jobs, incomes, opportunities and futures – appears to be in the eye of the beholder.The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives recently published a five-part series titled “Grading Canada's Economic Recovery.” Written by Kayle Hatt, the CCPA's 2013 Andrew Jackson Progressive Economics Intern, it awarded the government two C's, one B and one F.Hatt's concluding essay knocked down most, if not all, of the federal government's self-congratulatory claims.“There is no dispute that Canada has had a 'recovery,'” Hatt writes in the final installment entitled Grading Canada's Economic Recovery: The Big Picture. “Both Canada's economy and unemployment have improved since the end of the low point of the recession – but the question is the quality of that recovery.”On GDP growth, when adjusted for population increase, Canada's recovery in Real GDP per capita has been mediocre, ranking fourth in the G-7 and 16th out of 34 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). This earned Canada a equally mediocre C grade.The study reported “serious flaws” in the way the government communicates labor market health. Employment rates have only partially recovered since the recession, placing Canada fourth in the G- 7 (not first, as the government repeatedly boasts) and 10th in the OECD.During the recession, Canada lost 430,000 jobs while 870,000 new people entered the labour force since the recession's start. Canada needed to create 1.3 million jobs to replace job losses during the recession and keep pace with population growth. Instead, it created about one million new jobs, a shortfall of 280,000 jobs.Underemployment and precarious employment – short-term and temporary employment with no security – earned the government its worst grade in the series, an F for failure. Today, fully 2,434,300 Canadians find themselves in precarious and non-permanent jobs. And that's in addition to those who are unemployed.  This leaves Canada performing fourth in the G-7 and 21st of 28 in the OECD in this category.“Canada's recovery has been mediocre and unexceptional by international standards,” Hatt states. “Many countries in the OECD have experienced stronger recovery than Canada has. This is likely why the government uses the G-7 comparison so frequently. It creates an impression of economic success – but the truth is more nuanced.“Clearly, Canada's economic growth doesn't live up to the hype. Counter to the federal government's claims of good economic stewardship, Canadians are suffering through unemployment, underemployment, or precarious work.”Canada could take a huge step forward - and actually start living up to its own propaganda about its jobs performance – if it ceased its constant austerity drumbeat of slashing government and taxes to fulfill a Kafkaesque dream of starving itself – and Canadians – into prosperity.Meanwhile, EconomicJustice.ca, a blog run by economist Sam Boshra, gives readers a gritty glimpse into the life of a rapidly-increasing number of the employed: fast-food workers.The posting goes under the title: Q: How does a McDonald's employee get by in the new Mconomy? A: By getting a second McJob, according to McDonalds.“With a salary of $8.25 /hr at each job and monthly earnings of $1105 at the first job and $955 at the second, our tired McDonald's employee would be spending 294 hours at work each month – 158 hours at the first job, 136 at the second. Assuming a 22-workday month, that comes out to 68 hours per week.“If they worked that long at one job, they'd have been entitled to 24 to 28 hours overtime pay each week. Except it's not the 80s and this is the new Mconomy. Employee avoidance is the new tax avoidance. Instead of hiring more employees, employers like McDonald's have the same ones work multiple jobs for a fraction of what would constitute a living wage.”Worse, Boshra continues, is the practice of another U.S. fast-food chain, Fatburger. It has implemented a franchisee employee-sharing scheme to avoid providing its employees health benefits under what's been termed Obamacare. Obamacare requires all U.S. employers with more than 50 employees to provide health care for all those who work at least 30 hours a week.“Fatburger's solution: simply avoid having any employees work that many hours in a single franchise,” the blog continues. “The example given would have a Fatburger employee work 25 hours at one franchise and 25 at another (owned by a separate franchisee) during a given week.“Assuming all fast food chains adopt this policy, our unfortunate McDonald's/Fatburger employee would need to find a third job to earn enough to stay within his/her unrealistic McJob budget.”Boshra goes on to point out that Canadian fast-food workers are even worse off. “A Canadian McDonald's employee making $2,060 a month after tax ($24,720 a year) would not  be considered low income. In fact, a couple residing in a major Canadian urban centre trying to live off that would not be considered low income.”He concludes: “If you ever see or hear Canadian 'news'commentators/pundits playing down income inequality by pointing to the official low poverty rate, now you know why. The low income cut-offs are meaningless as poverty measures.”Frances Russell was born in Winnipeg and graduated from the University of Manitoba with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history and political science. A journalist since 1962, she has covered and commented on politics in Manitoba, Ontario, B.C. and Ottawa, working for The Winnipeg Tribune, United Press International, The Globe and Mail, The Vancouver Sun and The Winnipeg Free Press as well as freelanced for The Toronto Star, The Edmonton Journal, CBC Radio and TV and Time Magazine.She is the author of two award-winning books on Manitoba history: Mistehay Sakahegan – The Great Lake: The Beauty and the Treachery of Lake Winnipeg and The Canadian Crucible – Manitoba's Role in Canada's Great Divide. Both won the Manitoba Historical Society Award for popular history.She is married with one son and two grandsons and lives in Winnipeg.