4.3% unemployment in Peterborough: a misleading statistic

On April 9, the Peterborough Examiner’s local news featured a headline that read: “Peterborough’s March unemployment rate of 4.3% was lowest of Canada’s 34 census metropolitan areas.”

The Statistics Canada report that published this finding noted the drop in unemployment rate from 8.6 per cent in November to the noteworthy 4.3 per cent in March.

The drop moved Peterborough from the metropolitan area with the second highest unemployment rate to one of the areas with the lowest unemployment rates. Statistics are misleading.

This percentage says nothing of those who have left Peterborough because they could not find employment. The figure forgets to mention those that have stopped looking for a job. The 4.3 per cent does not include those that live on minimum wage and still cannot afford rent, those that are underemployed who found no use for their hard-earned skills or those that live from the budding informal economy that thrives behind closed windows and doors.

The respectable, almost impressive statistic, 4.3 per cent, fails to explain the growing need for housing support, homeless shelters and food banks that continue to provide services to those that the 4.3 per cent forgot to take into account.

Despite the success story that Statistics Canada reports, Peterborough’s median income from all sources continues to trail behind other similar communities in Ontario.

Of Peterborough’s population of 81,000, more than 50 per cent have annual incomes that fall below the median before-tax income and about 29,000 people have an annual income of less than $15,000.

Unemployment may be relatively low, but need is relatively high.

Forty-eight per cent of Peterborough’s renter population and 18 per cent of homeowners spend over 30 per cent of their income on housing. This is no surprise considering that a homeowner would need a full-time job at a wage of $16 an hour in order to afford the average house.

In addition, in order to afford a two-bedroom apartment, renters would need to earn at least $18 an hour and work 40 hours a week. These figures demonstrate that merely looking at unemployment rates is not enough, as employment does not guarantee the means for subsistence.

As a result, social housing units, which determine rent by taking into account the gross household income, have a high level of demand in Peterborough. The average waiting time to access one these units is seven years and there are approximately 1,500 people on the waiting list. The high demand for social housing units demonstrates the lack of affordable housing in Peterborough and the inadequacy of current forms of employment and existing wages.

In addition to social housing units, food banks also seek to provide a basic need. Kawartha Food Share, for example, creates partnerships in the communities in order to provide accessible food resources to those who experience hunger and to raise public awareness on the issue. It assists 8,100 people – 10 per cenr of the total population of Peterborough.

A number of food banks exist in the Peterborough area including the Good Neighbours Care Centre, located on Sherbrooke Street, the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul on Murray Street, and the Salvation Army Food Bank.

Food Not Bombs, a grass roots movement seeking to reclaim food justice, provides a community meal every Monday at Confederation Park using food that would otherwise be wasted in order to provide for those in need and cater to a diversity of Peterborough residents, including students.

Emergency shelters are also numerous in Peterborough. However, they can only serve a limited number of the population in need.

One of these emergency shelters is The Warming Room, which is open seven days a week throughout the winter in order to provide a warm place during the winter months.

The Warming Room has an open door policy and is run through the collaboration of staff and volunteers.

Brock Mission and Cameron House also fill a severe housing gap.

The Mission is equipped with 40 beds for the men’s shelter and has been operating for over 25 years. Cameron House provides short-term shelter for women and a life skills program.

The existence and high demand for these services demonstrates the lack of affordable housing and appropriate employment.

They tell a more accurate story than “4.3%” ever could. Where 4.3 per cent stands victorious, the sheer demand for organizations that provide food security and shelter speak for those that statistics erase.

They demand a reevaluation of the socioeconomic conditions that deny people access to the most basic services, and question the validity of unemployment statistics and all that they conceal.