Is unemployment better than Canada?

by on February 27, 2012 at 6:06 am in Current Affairs, Economics, Uncategorized | Permalink

Or do the Canadians simply do not want us?

They are a projected 335,000 job opportunities arising in British Columbia and Alberta between now and 2014, especially in construction. The biggest demand relates to carpenters, electricians, welders, plumbers, heavy equipment operators and millwrights.

Canada differs from many countries seeking workers abroad in that it encourages long term inward migration by specified groups and facilitates family settlement.

Most of all they are searching in Ireland, it seems.

1 Bill February 27, 2012 at 7:15 am

Or, persons from Ireland are searching for them.

Markets have two sides.

2 Bill February 27, 2012 at 7:56 am

There has been very little reporting of US outmigration of US college graduates. I don’t know if the following signifies a trend. I know of two separate families with children who have moved to use their agree abroad after finding few opportunities in the US: one college graduate with an IT background went to Brazil; in another family, the daughter has an art history degree and moved to Albania to help them their catalogue art and architecture with the goal of creating art and architecture tourism.

Re the Irish item above: note that Ireland is sponsoring the outmigration of construction workers.

3 TmC February 28, 2012 at 12:13 pm

“Or, persons from Ireland are searching for them.”
Or you could read the first line of the article.

“A delegation from western Canada is visiting Dublin this week in an effort to recruit thousands of workers for the construction and related trades.”

4 Bill February 28, 2012 at 7:06 pm

TMc, Or you could read the link: Link reports that Ireland was promoting emigration of its citizens by hosting the event.

5 Bill February 28, 2012 at 7:08 pm

TmC, I don’t think you got my point though. In markets there are buyers and there are sellers. That’s how it works. In this case, the sellers were sponsored by the Irish government to leave their country in order to reduce unemployment.

6 the spam robots are getting better and better February 27, 2012 at 7:26 am

Ya well, someone has to build all the new condos for the Chinese Communist Party members to buy.

7 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 10:28 am

It’s true – especially in BC

8 tkehler February 27, 2012 at 12:57 pm

Well, yes. The condo market for statist politburo cadres in Sask. is rather slow at the moment…

9 Lonely Libertarian February 27, 2012 at 7:31 am


Do any of the jobs in high demand require [need] college education?

10 Ryan February 27, 2012 at 10:12 am

No, but they pay a lot better than your average high-skilled job in the same region (Alberta/BC).

Tradespeople make a lot of money in this region because their skills are in such high demand.

11 Rahul February 27, 2012 at 7:36 am

After all the talk about scarcity of STEM graduates, it is ironic that none of those listed jobs need an advanced degree or even a college education really.

12 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 10:29 am

Bingo! Oh you mean Tyler Cowen has been wrong all this time?! How could that be?!?!?

13 Andrew' February 27, 2012 at 10:37 am

It’s not that there is a huge shortage of STEM, there is a surplus of everything else. More STEM graduates will probably lower the earnings of those in STEM, this also lowers the cost of work involving STEM. This increases the dynamism of STEM parts of the economy and makes the real things people buy cheaper. In the long run, maybe it even increases the jobs as companies can stay here rather than go to places like China or India where they do graduate tons of STEM majors.

14 Rahul February 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

Not in Canada though? Doesn’t look like they have a surplus of carpenters, electricians, welders, plumbers etc.

15 Andrew' February 27, 2012 at 12:09 pm

We were talking about college degrees. You don’t need degrees for those…yet god help us.

16 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 10:41 am

Ha! Canadians don’t even know what the word Dynamism means! Most of them would probably think you mean dynamite for blowing open another zinc mine.

17 Dan Hanson February 27, 2012 at 3:32 pm

I think ‘STEM’ is becoming far too broad a category to be useful when discussing labor shortages. There’s a big difference between someone with an undergrad degree in biology and someone with a degree in electrical engineering or computing science. Lots of people get STEM degrees because of pre-med programs, and those who don’t get into med school may find that their general science degree isn’t all that useful, or the specialty they studied isn’t in demand.

However, there are shortages of engineers everywhere you look. Especially electrical engineers and computer engineers.

18 Andrew' February 27, 2012 at 7:54 am

“Is unemployment better than Canada?”

Are you asking if it is better to be unemployed than to be Canadian?

19 Norman Pfyster February 27, 2012 at 9:20 am

Paging CBBB, line 1.

20 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 10:20 am

Yeah I’m here to clean up this mess of a post.

21 Andrew' February 27, 2012 at 10:38 am

Actually, I think that is what he’s asking. And I’d have to say yes. On the one side you have unemployment insurance which at it’s best smooths out the economic cycle. On the other hand you get the opportunity to move to Canada for what might be yet another boom-bust cycle. Maybe individuals should consider it while at the same time voting our bastards out.

22 figleaf February 27, 2012 at 7:56 am

To answer the question in your title, Tyler, I know a number of Americans who have moved to various parts of British Columbia. None seem interested in returning. On the other hand I know a number of Canadians who have come down to work or go to school in various parts of Washington State. None have tried to overstay their visas.

Of course these comparisons aren’t orthogonal. Canadian policy favors immigration and xenophobia has been driving US policy to become almost punitive against even legal immigrants.

But the case remains. Standards of living are subjectively and possibly higher in Vancoucer and Victoria than in Seattle or Portland. Society is effectively more civil. I’d rather remain in the US than move to Canada, but not for rational economic self interest reasons.

As for Canadians recruiting Irish over American construction workers, I believe that as fellow Commonwealth members the paperwork is more conducive. I’m pretty sure Commonwealth education policy provides way more vocational policy for non-college-track workers than does (non-union apprenticeship) policy in the US. So the Irish might seem like better long-term investments to recruiters.

I don’t know about the rest of the US and Canada. There might be less incentive for folks in Minneappolis to move to Winnipeg or vibe versa. Same for Windsor and Detroit or DC and Ottowa.

Finally, I’m guessing temperature is as big an obstacle as anything for unemployed American construction workers in SoCal, Arizona, Nevada, and Florida when all the new work is is concentrated in n Alberta! A good way to check: is unemployment preferable to North Dakota where construction workers are also in very short supply? Would Nort Dakotans feel more culturally happy to welcome southern or Commonwealth newcomers?


23 figleaf February 27, 2012 at 8:00 am

arg. Stupid iPhone keyboard. I’m in NoVa (Baileys Crossroads) at the moment. Going to check out some of Tyler’s restaurant recommendations while I’m here. But I don’t have a real keyboard. –fl

24 the Commentariette February 27, 2012 at 8:41 am

> As for Canadians recruiting Irish over American construction workers, I believe that as fellow Commonwealth members the paperwork is more conducive.

Um. the Republic of Ireland is not part of the British Commonwealth. Not even a teeny tiny little bit.

25 Rahul February 27, 2012 at 8:48 am

I think the Commonwealth part is a total red herring. A majority of commonwealth nations are poor Asian / African nations and I bet their citizens find it a lot harder to get those Canadian jobs than an American who wants to.

26 figleaf February 27, 2012 at 8:30 pm

Of course the Republic of Ireland isn’t in the capital-C Commonwealth. But Canada does still seem to have some sort of reciprocity with former British colonies such that, for instance, it’s relatively easier for, say, citizens of Australian, Ireland, South Africa, Hong Kong, etc. to migrate and vice versa. Not as easy as Americans moving from Ohio to Alaska, but easier than moving from the U.S. to Canada.


27 Jim February 27, 2012 at 10:26 am

>xenophobia has been driving US policy to become almost punitive against even legal immigrants.

This has not even the slightest shred of a hint of truth in it.

28 Rahul February 27, 2012 at 10:47 am

I think he has a point. Compare the average time-to-permanent-residency in the US versus Canada for pretty much any occupation you pick. Also, compare the waiting periods, cost, paperwork, and transparency of the process.

Immigrating to the US still has a lot of attractions but it sure ain’t the friendliness of the immigration process.

29 sunbomb February 27, 2012 at 11:10 am

+1 to this from personal experience. Actually, I have to say that of all the experiences I remember in the US, the immigration policies (not necessarily the people who execute them) were the most unpleasant. I can’t even think of any other bad experience. Even racism wasn’t that big a deal wherever I traveled.

30 Rahul February 27, 2012 at 11:54 am

It always amazed me how so friendly and pleasant that most Americans were, could be represented by a system that was quite xenophobic. It felt like the whole wasn’t the sum of its parts.

31 Doc Merlin February 27, 2012 at 1:40 pm

Because what matters is pieces of land and nations, not people. So we will be very polite to people, but be horrible against pieces of land and nations.

32 el February 27, 2012 at 11:47 am

It’s always baffled me why the US has an immigration policy that essentially drives foreign-born graduates from US universities with high-paying jobs to other countries. Most of the international students from my graduating class who fell into this group were transferred by their companies to London, Singapore, Hong Kong, or Dubai branches within a year of graduation, even though their employers were willing to sponsor them. It seems like a waste of talent (and potential income taxes!)

33 msgkings February 27, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Ask CH and Maguro. They must have some reasons for not wanting foreigners to immigrate here.

34 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 2:41 pm

Oh I feel so sorry for those people. They should be lucky they didn’t go to a Canadian school then because you know where they’d be after they graduated if they took advantage of Canada’s “sensible” immigration policy? Toronto.
Ever been to Toronto? Last call is 1:30 am – everywhere. The city is basically a ghost town after 7pm most days.

35 maguro February 28, 2012 at 4:37 pm

I actually like Canada’s immigration policy, it makes a lot more sense than our own policy of importing the least capable cohort of various Third World countries.

36 mrpinto February 29, 2012 at 11:38 am

@CBBB, if the town clears out by 7:30, then doesn’t that make the 1:30 last call LATE, not EARLY? For reference, last call in my mid-size American city is 2am. The city becomes a ghost town at… 2:10AM. =)

37 Peter February 27, 2012 at 11:09 am

Having looked closely into immigration for both countries (I’m an American and my boyfriend is a Canadian), I can say that Canada has much more sensible policies. Let’s take the example of foreign students:

If you graduate from a Canadian university, you can get a post-graduation work permit which allows you to work for 3 years in Canada without restriction as to employer or having a pre-arranged job. After working for 1 year on that work permit, you can apply to become a permanent resident under the “Canadian Experience” class, and once you’re a permanent resident, you can move towards citizenship. If you graduate from a US university, you can try to find an employer right out of school and hope that maybe you get selected for an H1B visa*, but it’s not a sure thing, and it has no path to permanency except to marry an American of the opposite sex.

*Canadians and Mexicans are in a little better shape as they can get a TN visa that isn’t quotaed.

38 Andrew' February 27, 2012 at 12:15 pm

There’s no market. I have proposed The Immigration Tax. Essentially a market. No need to flesh out details until a large group of people get their heads out of their 5 hole in a statistically unlikely timeframe.

39 Marian Kechlibar February 28, 2012 at 6:50 am

Let us separate the two assertions.

“US policy towards legal immigrants is punitive” – anyone who underwent this will probably agree.

“xenophobia has been driving this policy” – now that is an assertion straight out of parochial American culture wars. In reality, white English-speaking South Africans do not have it any easier than black Igbo-speaking Nigerians.

My explanation is that United States bureaucracy is almost singularly horribly incompetent, when it comes to clarity and efficiency of regulations, and that unless it is very strongly motivated to do otherwise, it produces a veritable kudzu of conflicting paperwork in everything that it touches.

From what I have heard, EPA regulations or New York Port Authority regulations aren’t any better than legal immigration regulations, and surely xenophobia does not play any role in these.

My take: the USA = country of competent businessmen and inept bureaucrats, a cultural heritage.

(Note that there are some countries in which the reverse holds; French bureaucracy is rather effective, but the free market sucks).

40 Alan February 27, 2012 at 8:36 am

I wonder what percentage of unemployed Americans could find British Columbia or Alberta, on a map or by car.

By the way, there is a already a word for a the process or action of leaving one’s native land. It is called emigration.

41 Geoff Olynyk February 27, 2012 at 8:51 am

This isn’t hard to understand.

(1) Immigrating to a first-world country is extremely hard, and costs a lot of money and time. Even if your new employer sponsors you, we’re still talking about a lot of paperwork.

(2) Probably a third to a half of Americans don’t even know that Canada is a first-world country. (The same third to half that think that everywhere outside America is some sort of poverty-ridden socialist nightmare.)

(3) Don’t underestimate the climate. People from the south hate the cold. It’s kind of amusing, really. (Although in my experience nobody is more bitter about weather than Canadian expats who have moved to the southern U.S. Get one of those people talking about Canadian weather and you’ll never stop them. They do everything but call you mentally challenged for not leaving for warmer climes.)

(4) I’m going to guess that being a “home body” (not wanting to leave ones home town or home area) is probably overrepresented among the unemployed. That’s probably partly why they’re unemployed. Also moving costs money and the unemployed don’t have as much money.

42 Doc Merlin February 27, 2012 at 9:12 am

Also what is known colloquially as the “two body problem.”
Both spouses working has strongly decreased mobility.

43 Norman Pfyster February 27, 2012 at 9:19 am

As a native of Wisconsin, people from the north, except for a few nutcases like my dad, hate cold weather, too.

44 Slocum February 27, 2012 at 9:41 am

As a native of Michigan, I don’t hate the cold weather–what I hate is the ‘in between’ weather in early spring and late fall. When it’s snowing and below freezing, you can get outside and do all kinds of things. When it’s in the 40s or 50s and raining with lots of mud, you can’t do much of anything. March and November are the worst weather months. It’s a lot easier to stay warm in the cold than dry in the rain.

45 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 10:44 am

The Idiots on this blog REALLY don’t understand #1. It seems to be conventional wisdom that if you can get a job in another country you can easily move there. It’s simply not the case – many people are rejected for visas even with a firm job offer.

46 Andrew' February 27, 2012 at 12:12 pm

CBBB from Elbonia,

They aren’t idiots. He asks the question. The question may be yes. If it’s yes, this means we are increasing the benefits of staying while also increasing the costs of moving. How ’bout no paperwork?

47 John Davies February 27, 2012 at 9:28 am

“Is unemployment better than Canada?”

No. Unemployment is a terrible, life-wasting condition that not only represents a waste of society’s resources and a missed opportunity, but also many millions of individual tragedies for the unemployed and their dependents.

Canada, on the other hand, is a big friendly place with fantastic scenery and great breakfasts.

48 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 10:38 am

I see Tyler deleting my comment saying what trash Canada is. Hey Tyler I’m from Canada I’m allowed to bash it.

49 derek February 27, 2012 at 10:26 am

It’s worth mentioning that the shortage is partly due to the reduced in migration from the rest of Canada, or rather a turning around. The Alberta oil construction boom has for years attracted workers from the eastern provinces. Now there are major construction projects going on in New Brunswick and Newfoundland so many of these folks are going home. The activity is on top of the constant and continuing tar sands expansion. These are port and pipeline construction projects and mining development. The local lead zinc smelter (Trail BC) has some expansion projects for this year and are having trouble finding enough people to do the work.

Americans can go to North Dakota to get the same opportunities without emigrating. The projects north of the border in Saskatchewan are absorbing workers as well.

A young lad I know was working in Edmonton as an industrial electrician. $46 per hour. His brother is an electrician working in a small town further north and does even better than that.

50 Doc Merlin February 27, 2012 at 1:42 pm

Yes, but most women don’t want to live in such places. Its hard to find a mate if you chase blue collar work to such places.

51 Doc Merlin February 27, 2012 at 1:43 pm

…Whereas places like NYC have more women than men.

52 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 2:27 pm

Which is why that $46+ an hour isn’t actually worth very much

53 Brian Donohue February 28, 2012 at 12:51 am

Right. If only there were some way to, you know, bottle that money for later use.

54 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 10:27 am

No unemployment is certainly NOT better in Canada. Particularly not for university educated/professional type positions. As you can see right from Tyler’s post the demand that does exist is for skill trades people to do work related to the oil and natural resource industries (in British Columbia/Alberta/Saskatchewan). I guess I’ll have to look this stuff up later, but I recall in the last month’s employment report, unemployment increased and the categories with some of the biggest losses were scientific and professional services.
Also anecdotally when I was looking for jobs virtually all the interviews I conducted were with American companies – I applied to lots of positions in Canada but there was essentially no interest at all. Why? Well there’s a variety of reasons I’m sure – one thing is the Canadian immigration policy is not as sensible as people like to say. It’s easy to emigrate here if you have a STEM degree or graduate degree from somewhere and then once here discover that there is actually no real demand for these skills.

55 sunbomb February 27, 2012 at 10:54 am

I have occasionally seen your posts here on MR about searching for STEM jobs and being disheartened. I did not realize you were in Canada though. To your point about Canadian immigration policy and immigrant grads: several of my non-US friends have moved from working in the US to permanent residency in Canada. They are all STEM grads and do not seem to have faced too much failure finding jobs. The key may be that they are concentrated in the Eastern part of Canada, rather than the west. I do have some friends living in Alberta since the last 10 years and they report being overwhelmed by the boom-times there. Do you see the demand for STEM jobs there going up as the economy “matures”?

56 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 2:24 pm

I think the real key there is that your friends were working in the US – ie they are experienced, which puts them in a much better position.

57 Brian Donohue February 28, 2012 at 12:57 am

Nah. Even (especially?) among technical people, there are those who figure out how to be useful, and those who wait to be fed.

58 derek February 27, 2012 at 12:11 pm

A few acquaintances have done very well when they left university, took a trade and ended up in positions of responsibility.

59 Andrew' February 27, 2012 at 10:40 am

“opportunities mostly in construction” raises my antenna. I don’t want to move to Canada and then suddenly be whipsawed in a place that’s even colder.

60 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 10:50 am

If the US wants these construction jobs related to the oil industry – they could send in the army to annex Alberta. Much like Louis XIV was advised that the best way to create a banking centre like Amsterdam was to annex the Netherlands. However this time it would really work since the oil exists irrespective of any government policies.

61 Doc Merlin February 27, 2012 at 1:45 pm

“However this time it would really work since the oil exists irrespective of any government policies.”


Government policies are what prevent or allow oil extraction. There is plenty of oil on US lands, but the difference between us an Canada is that our government is willing and able to block the development, theirs is not.

62 CBBB February 27, 2012 at 2:26 pm

I doubt there’s the amount of oil that exists in Alberta. Besides if Alberta is made some kind of territory and not a full State then I’m sure the environmental regulations can be gotten around more easily.

63 The Anti-Gnostic February 27, 2012 at 2:50 pm

Canada is cold and the taxes are high. I’m told (I do not know), that anybody who can supplements their single-payor care; co-pays are increasing; and your “guaranteed” vacation is two weeks. So much for social democratic utopia.

I’ve also heard there’s lots of loyal citizens of the Commonwealth who prefer to keep themselves and their reported income elsewhere most of the year, unless they need surgery. I predict in a few years push will come to shove and all that fantastic scenery will be strip-mined and built over faster than you can say TANSTAAFL.

64 Dan Hanson February 27, 2012 at 3:26 pm

I’m in Alberta, and I can tell you that we’re also experiencing shortages of engineers. My company has had positions open for software and hardware engineers for months that we can’t fill.

But most of the job opportunities right now are in construction – Alberta and BC are growing like mad. This is straining our infrastructure and causing shortages of construction workers and service personnel. The high pay of the oil patch jobs up north is driving a lot of construction workers up there, making the shortages in the lower part of the province even worse.

As for high taxes in Canada – it really depends where you live. Alberta is a major outlier in Canada.

Let me quote from the Fraser Institute’s annual report of economic freedom in North America:

“Alberta is the most economically free jurisdiction in North America, topping all 60 Canadian provinces and U.S. states.”

Among the sub-categories of economic freedom, Alberta ranked #1 out of all Canadian provinces and U.S. states in Scores for Takings and Discriminatory Taxation and for overall taxation. We have no provincial sales tax and a flat provincial income tax of 10%,

Full report here:

Is it a surprise to readers of this blog that the most economically free region of North America also has the strongest economy and is creating the most jobs per capita?

65 Geoff Olynyk February 27, 2012 at 5:15 pm

Dan Hanson: Define “qualified”?

Sometimes when I hear these stories about how no qualified workers can be found, I wonder if the working definition is something like “Willing to work as a mechanical engineer for $50,000/year in a cold, miserable place where your choice of entertainment is meth, moose hunting, or prostitutes; applicant must also have at least five years experience on the exact type of bitumen separation process that we’re using”.

Random thoughts: Of course, the fact that this occurs so much says that the market has decided that it’s better to leave positions unfilled for a while than to take a chance on an “unqualified” worker and try to train her or him on the job. Now obviously you aren’t going to hire a community college graduate for a real engineering job, but you’d think that at least some companies would set their sights a little lower and try to manufacture their own qualified employees. I guess, though, if getting an unqualified person up to speed costs the productivity of one of your senior people… it’s better to just sit and wait for the qualified person. Interesting.

66 Geoff Olynyk February 27, 2012 at 5:17 pm

Perhaps $50,000 is a little high. Many people would be happy with that salary. My point was that you can earn that much starting as a junior engineer in Toronto (and probably more in Calgary); the oil patch will have to pay more to get people to head up to the north.

67 figleaf February 27, 2012 at 8:50 pm

I have a Canadian brother in law — whip smart, no college degree but a pretty senior plumber experience-wise. He’s over 60 so not as spry as he used to be. But he spent, I think, four summer-only seasons in Alberta doing straight-up residential plumbing on the dormitories workers stay in — not even working on oil projects. I don’t think he ever came back with less than $50,000 a trip.

On the other hand, there are more dormitories than houses, very few (female) sex workers, and no moose to speak of either. Like a lot of high-impact extraction economies. Also rent, food, etc. is very expensive there.

Another reason the Irish might be as interested as Canadians in recruiting unemployed Irish workers. They’re more likely to accept relatively temporary displacement, they’re also likely to return home rather than stay if they get laid off in a bust, and they’re more likely to remit part of their income back to family in Ireland while they’re working.


68 Dan Hanson February 27, 2012 at 5:31 pm

“Qualified” just means experienced in the field. In this case, we were looking for a user interface design engineer. We pay market rates, and the job was in a large city, working for one of the largest companies in the world.

69 The Anonymouse February 27, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Meth, moose hunting, and prostitutes… what could go wrong?

70 Jamessir Bensonmum February 28, 2012 at 6:21 am

Confusing article. Is the writer’s point that Americans are lazy because they won’t go take Canadian jobs?

Immigrating is a big deal. I doubt that most unemployed Americans have the means to pull up roots & go to a foreign country to work. And yes, Canada is a foreign country. I wouldn’t care to live there. The many Canadians I have known have only been able to describe their culture and their beliefs by contrasting with the US. They’re more able to say how not-American they are instead of really describing themselves.

71 thehova83 February 28, 2012 at 7:57 am

It’s amusing how the world pokes fun of America’s patriotism. Canada is much more fervantly patriotic than America.

72 Eric February 28, 2012 at 10:25 am

Sorry Dan but your proof of how a strong economy is working seems to be violating some paradigms of other posters here. They believe that if you get a university degree you are automatically entitled to an immediate, high paying job in a pleasant, warm location. Furthermore, you should only haveto work 37 hours per week (except for your 6 weeks paid vacation). I am in the PNW and we are also short of genuine workers.

73 Ralph February 28, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Love you guys but seriously, to join your country, I have to pledge allegiance to the Queen? Talk about some cultural differences to absorb.

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