Out of Work, Off the Radar? Why on-reserve unemployment isn’t counted
For a while now, I have wondered why Canada’s national unemployment figures do not include people living on reserves. This week, I decided to find out why, and I’d like to know what other people think of the reasons given for the exclusion.
Every month, Statistics Canada collects and releases its unemployment figures through the Labour Force Survey (LFS). The Survey samples apx. 54,000 households on a rotating basis, with no household staying in the sample for more than 6 months.
For 2006, INAC reports a total of 117,106 dwelling units on reserves. Not one of them gets to be part of the LFS.
According to StatsCan,
Indian reserves have historically been excluded from the LFS due to the serious challenges in contacting and interviewing potential respondents, with many of them living in remote locations not easily accessible to LFS interviewers given the short data collection period each month, and the large effort and cost associated with traveling to these locations.
But after reading into it a bit more (via their own 2008 document Methodology of the Canadian Labour Force Survey), I discovered that
LFS interviews are conducted using two collection methods, computer-assisted personal interviewing (CAPI) and computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI). Historically, CAPI has been used for households in their first month of the survey, with interviewers visiting in person to conduct the interview. [Subsequent interviews] … are normally conducted using CATI…
Note the word “historically.” As of 2004, a “major change was introduced” when households were brought into the sample for the first time not through a personal interview but via the telephone (a call usually preceded by a letter notifying them in advance).
Here’s the thing: it applies to urban areas only, as “Administrative lists for these areas are updated on a regular basis and the addresses tend to have a standard form, which provides a better match.”
Is this reason enough to justify the exclusion of on-reserve residents? Are reserve phone lists that out of date, their addresses so non-standardized, that it would skew or corrupt the results?
Because here’s the thing. While I recognize telecom access is not the best everywhere, the federal government commissions phone surveys of reserve residents all the time: in fact, a quick Google™ search revealed references to surveys dating back to 2001, 2003, 2006, 2008, and 2009. (They seem to use EKOS a lot.)
At least one case involved a telephone survey of 2,002 First Nations residents living on-reserve, so the sample size is by no means tiny.
Now, I have encountered suggestions that the ‘real’ reason reserve populations are excluded is that including them would see the overall national unemployment rate skyrocket, thereby raising some embarrassing questions for the government. I am not so sure about that, to be honest. Those who might be able to bring additional info to bear on this assertion are invited to share.
To be fair, though, I should note that StatsCan says that, as of 2004,
the Labour Force Survey [has] included an Aboriginal identity question which permitted Aboriginal peoples living off reserve in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia, and all Aboriginal people living in the three territories to identify themselves as North American Indian, Métis or Inuit. As of January 2007, labour market conditions for off-reserve Aboriginal people [has been] collected for all provinces and for all Aboriginal people living in the territories.
Come back often to mediaINDIGENA for reports on future releases of these off-reserve numbers. Of course, we hope that one day they will be complemented by on-reserve data for a complete picture of Aboriginal rates of un/employment in Canada.