Barrie’s Jobs Paradox

The fourth highest employment rate in Ontario.  3,400 more jobs created in 2011, nearly twice as many as in all of 2010.  More than 500 new industrial jobs announced by companies in the past 6 months.  1,300 new jobs coming at an expanding  hospital, cancer care centre, and community college.  Industrial building permits up by 63% so far in 2011, compared to all of 2010.  Crime down by 11% from last year. 

Does this sound like the city with the highest unemployment rate in Canada in October?  No – but it is.  Our fair city of Barrie. 

There is a huge amount of attention paid to the unemployment rate.   When it rises, it is a cause for big concern.  And many people in Barrie right now are shocked by how high our rate is – in fact, our unemployment rate has fluctuated between 8% and 12% for nearly three years now, higher than the Provincial average, and at times, higher than any other city in Ontario. 

The jobs paradox in Barrie is this:  we have a higher proportion of our population working than almost any other city, and yet we still have a high unemployment rate.  This is partly the result of being the youngest city in the country.  We are almost entirely unique among Canadian cities in that three-quarters of our population over the age of 15 are in the workforce (only one-quarter are retired or otherwise not working).  In almost all other cities, it’s two-thirds of the population that are in the workforce, and one-third that are retired or not in the workforce.

This is part of the reason we are such a strong, family-oriented community.  But the challenge of having 75% of the adult population working, instead of 65% as with most cities, is we need that many more jobs for our unemployment rate to drop.  The bar is that much higher for us in Barrie. 

So – here’s a rate that gets no attention:  the employment rate.  That’s the percentage of the adult population that actually have a job.  Barrie’s rate in October was 64.9%.  That’s good for fourth place in all of Ontario, behind only Ottawa, Kitchener-Waterloo, and Guelph (all of them demographically young cities as well).  And yet, with such a large proportion of the adult population in the workforce, even this high employment rate leaves us with that many more people without jobs.

None of this is intended to try to detract or distract from the seriousness of having a high unemployment rate.  Every one of the people that make up that unemployment statistic are people struggling to find a job, trying to get through tough times, and in many cases support families who depend on them.  People are not statistics.  Jobs have to be priority #1 for our community and for all levels of government.

But we need to recognize that part of what makes Barrie unique – our young population, our changing economy, our rapid growth, creates a bigger challenge for employment in Barrie than in most cities.   There are that many more people competing for jobs.  Ontario’s economy has struggled in the recession, and we are not alone in having a high unemployment rate.  But what makes us unique as a City is also, right now, driving up our unemployment rate.

I will do everything I can – as will your City Council – to grow the number of jobs in Barrie.  We will need lots of help, and we must remember that it’s the private sector that creates the most jobs, not the public sector, and certainly not politicians!   But together with Ottawa and Queen’s Park, we can create a stronger climate for investment, and provide the education, infrastructure, and cost climate to support business growth and expansion.  The top priority for government in Barrie in 2012 can and must be jobs.