- by David Clark

A press release from the Four County Labour Market Planning Board (3rd December 2021), which is based on a release from Statistics Canada of its Labour Market Indicators, stated the “local unemployment rate dropped to 2.8%” (from 3.0 from October). Interestingly, the December rate was 3.0%; so it rose again.

On the face of it this sounds like great news. But be cautious of such statistical announcements for such a large region.

The study area of the release, referenced as the “Stratford-Bruce Peninsula” region, includes the counties of Grey, Bruce, Huron, and Perth. This is a large area with a population of about 298,000 (2016 census). With a large area like this, “local” becomes relative. Certainly if you live in the southern areas of Grey-Bruce, the northern parts of Huron-Perth could be local. If you live in the northern parts of Grey-Bruce and travel to northern Huron-Perth, well, quite frankly, you are technically a “tourist” according to metrics used to measure tourism. We use various boundaries to tabulate what we count. Data used in this analysis conforms to the county boundaries, except in the case of a detailed look at Grey and Bruce counties which uses municipal boundaries.

About 54% of the population aged 15 to 64, roughly the age of usual employment, is in Grey-Bruce and about 46% in Huron Perth. Further, participation rates (those in the labour force, those looking for employment), are higher for Huron and Perth (64.4% and 69.8% respectively) than for Grey and Bruce (61.0% and 60.1% respectively) (2016 census).

To get an idea if the unemployment rates differ among the four referenced counties, a look at various rates from the 2001 to 2016 censuses (most reliable numbers available) provides some insight. Each census release includes labour participation rates (mentioned above) and employment / unemployment rates. Data are taken from the census years 2001, 2006, 2011, and 2016.

Figure 1 shows the unemployment rates over the last four censuses for each of the four counties in the Labour Forces Region (as defined by Statistics Canada), as well as the four-county overall rate. It shows differences among the four counties, specifically that Grey and Bruce have had higher unemployment rates than Huron and Perth, as well as higher than the Stratford-Bruce Peninsula reporting region.

Figure 2 shows a similar concept, but for Grey, Bruce, Ontario, and Canada. Generally (except 2006) Bruce and Grey have done better than the province and the country.


Figure2unemploymentAnd, within Grey and Bruce, the census provides yet another level of analysis: the municipal level.




 Figure 3  (the map at the top of the article) indicates which municipalities are above or below the unemployment rates for their respective county; municipalities within Grey are ranked against Grey’s unemployment rate and similarly for Bruce. This finding holds when each municipality is ranked against the rate for the Stratford Bruce Peninsula study area. Black areas are those doing worse (higher rates of  unemployment), and grey areas are doing better (lower unemployment rates) than the average rate. The map is based on the 2016 census.

This analysis show that the “local” unemployment rates, as released by The Four County Labour Market Planning Board, albeit provided by Statistics Canada, have differed at the county level than at the larger reporting area. This suggests that the most recently released rate may actually be different at the county level and at the more local municipal level.

We need to be skeptical of what this monthly unemployment rate means, and how applicable it is to a localised area, such as Grey or Bruce. It is not that the numbers are wrong, but the numbers mislead and set our minds to thinking that “locally” we are doing great. This is not helpful for economic planning which is typically done at the lower and upper tiers of government (municipal and county).

Participation in the labour force changes month-over-month and year-over year (see two figures below); some people drop-out of looking for work and others enter or re-enter the labour force. If someone is “in the labour force” and stops seeking employment, they are no longer, technically, counted as unemployed, so the unemployment rate will be lower and the participation rate will drop, too. The following figure shows the participation rate as of 1st January of each year.

figure4unemploymentThe Labour Force participation rate (Figure 4), year-over-year for the Stratford-Bruce Peninsula region over the last 10 years, has ranged from a low of 60.1% (2013, 2016) to a high of 66.8% (2018, 2019) and sat at 62.7% in 2021.

(The figure lacks a scale as the intent is to show only the “trends” of participation and unemployment.) The mean for this period was 63.6%. In 2021 (Figure 5), the rate ranged from 61.6% (December) to 63.8% (July), with a mean of 62.8% for the year. 




The last figure (Figure 6) illustrates the “ups and downs” of the unemployment rate in 2021. Note that the December rate has risen to 3.0% from 2.8%. Compare the graph lines on Figures 5 and 6; you will see that the participation rate has dropped from September, meaning that fewer people are actively looking for employment. This might mean that the demand for labour (employers) closely matches the labour available (employees). Some people have stopped looking for work, likely temporarily. And COVID-19 has played havoc with employment so some people may just be riding out the storm, and government pandemic-fighting strategies. But this is just an educated guess. A statistic that is presented in isolation from other information it is next to useless. The fact that the unemployment rate is lower than has been in more than two years was an interesting anomaly. Statistics, more often than not, need some “drilling-down” to see what is going on, and need to have “context”.


The foregoing analysis suggests that the Stratford-Bruce Peninsula “local” unemployment rate is very misleading when applied to the Grey-Bruce area. The pattern (or trend) has been that Grey-Bruce has, since 2001, had an unemployment rate higher than Huron and Perth, at least based on 5-year census periods (Figure 1). This analysis highlights the need for “contextual information” to better understand trends and the specific communities within larger study areas. 

David Clark, MA, BES, BA(H), MAd(Diploma) is an Independent Researcher in Owen Sound





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