More thoughts on Ontario social assistance caseloads

Ontario unemployment and SA rates 1981 to 2008, 2009 monthly to February 2013 (Excel file)

All appears placid when looking at social assistance beneficiary totals (i.e. men, women and children) in Ontario in early 2013.

Since March to May 2012 when several categories in Ontario Works reached post recession highs, the Ontario Works totals have receded by about 12,000 while ODSP has inched up by a similar number over the same period.

This means that the percentage of Ontario’s population in receipt of social assistance remains stubbornly at about 6.5%, slightly higher than similar periods following major post-war recessions.

It would make it easier to understand and communicate if there was one ‘magic bullet’ that explained it all – but alas, there are many interwoven reasons that explain what’s happening ‘under the hood’.

Clearly, low lower EI coverage explains why some unemployed workers go straight to Ontario Works. Three years without a minimum wage increase may also help explain why post recession lows have not moved under 6% as is usually the case . Higher unemployment will also figure into the equation.

Child benefits and improved child support processes clearly have had an effect as we note a 6% drop in single parents receiving Ontario Works since July 2011 while singles and couples numbers have moderated modestly but relentlessly since last spring.

We also know that the economy and general levels of unemployment appear to have a lesser effect on the numbers of people receiving ODSP – these numbers simply continue a continuous decades-long trend of moving higher.

The reasons for this are not amenable to easy analysis as the reasons for it are complex and diffuse. An aging society plays a role. People coming to Canada later in life who are not eligible for full OAS has an effect as some seniors remain on ODSP. Advances in Medicine plays a huge role along with superior medical care. Higher eligibility rates in other provinces for other (work-triggered) disability benefits has a clear effect. EI regular payments at reduced levels also plays a part while the acceptance and diagnosis of certain forms of mental illness is also part of the equation. The loss of salary and wage-tenured jobs, replaced by contractual and temporary assignments, also means that persons with disabilities (especially in larger cities) have greater difficulty accessing work triggered disability benefits. Both obesity and diet are factors in the mix.

The above paragraph enumerates 10 (sometimes connected and sometimes disparate) reasons for higher social assistance disability numbers without even scratching the surface of programs rules and rate differentials between ODSP and Ontario Works.