Accueil » 16-3 ( 1961) » Conséquences du chômage pour le salarié du Québec

Conséquences du chômage pour le salarié du Québec

Gérald Fortin, M.-Adélard Tremblay et Marc Laplante


Conséquences du chômage pour le salarié du Québec

Après avoir explicité la méthodologie de l'étude et le mode d'approche particulier par lequel ils ont analysé le chômage, les auteurs consacrent une première partie de leur travail à l'analyse de la distribution géographique des chômeurs et à la mise en relation de ce phénomène avec des facteurs tels que l'instruction et la qualification du chef de famille. La seconde partie traite principalement des conséquences du chômage sur les niveaux de vie, la sécurité, les besoins et les aspirations de la famille du salarié.

Cet article fait partie d'une étude plus vaste sur les conditions de vie des travailleurs salariées de la Province de Québec. Cette étude est entreprise par le Centre de Recherches sociales de l'Université Laval, en collaboration avec la Fédération des Caisses Populaires Desjardins et l'Assurance-Vie Des jardins.


Consequences of Unemployment

The authors-wish to express their thanks to the Commission's staff who translated their original brief. An edited version appears here.

Unemployment is a phenomenon which has been analyzed mostly in macro-economic terms. In the more usual studies an attempt is made to determine the size of the number of unemployed in relation to the total labour force, as well as the general causes of the increase in the percentage of unemployed. While we do not deny the importance of this approach, there remain a large number of micro-economic and sociological aspects which have received much less attention from the researchers, but which are also of great importance for economic planning.

In the course of the study on living conditions of French-Canadian families we gathered data which enables us to examine unemployment among the workers of Quebec from certain angles. The research program is not centered on the unemployment problem, but rather on the living conditions of wage-earners, on the structure of the family budget, and on the needs and aspirations of families.

For the purposes of the study, 1,460 families distributed throughout the Province of Quebec were interviewed during the summer of 1959. The questionnaire used for those interviews furnished data on the family budget during one year (from the summer of 1958 until the summer of 1959). The population studied comprises all the complete families (married at least one year), of French origin that are families of wage-earners in the Province of Quebec.

The sample was stratified according to the characteristics of the municipality in which the families live. Six different groups of families were formed in this way: (1) wage-earning families in the metropolitan centres (Montreal and Quebec); (2) families in towns with a population of over 30,000; (3) families in towns with a population of between 5,000 and 30,000; (4) families living in villages of rural municipalities where agriculture is prosperous; (5) families in villages of rural municipalities where agriculture is average; (6) families in villages of municipalities where agriculture is poor.

Before commenting at greater length on the implications of the high percentage of unemployed in rural areas, it is necessary to define the yardstick which we use to measure unemployment. This method is quite different from the measurement used by the government agencies. The Dominion Bureau of Statistics, as well as the Federal Unemployment Insurance Commission, measures the intensity of unemployment by calculating the percentage of the labour force that is without work at a given moment. Thus, we find that in November 1960, 6 per cent of the Canadian labour force was without work, whereas in October 1960, that percentage was 5&. Those rates do not enable us to determine whether the workers who were unemployed in November had also been unemployed in October, nor the average duration of unemployment. The measurement which we use is different in two respects. Firstly, instead of taking the whole labour force into account, undifferentiated, we consider only those unemployed persons who are heads of families, that is, the workers whose instability of employment affects a large number of dependents. Secondly, we take into account the number of families whose heads have been unemployed at any time during the year between the summer of 1958 and the summer of 1959.

Thus if it is found in our study that 29 per cent of French-Canadian wage-earning families were exposed to unemployment at some time during the year while the maximum monthly rate of unemployment (as compiled by the government agencies) was 5 per cent during that period, it can be deduced that the heads of families who were questioned were unemployed at different periods of the year. The average duration of unemployment per family (19 weeks) underlines the plausibility of this distribution of the phenomenon in terms of time.

This method of measuring unemployment makes it possible to grasp more clearly the importance of under-employment in the Province of Quebec by laying bare certain phenomena that have been concealed by the other measurements. Thus, during the year 1958-1959, more than one-quarter of the wage-earning families of our sample were affected by unemployment at one time or other. That is a much larger proportion than one would gather from the official statistics. Furthermore, in the rural communities, unemployment affects between 30 per cent and 50 per cent of the families. The importance of unemployment is no doubt connected with the structure of occupation in the various communities. We can only present here a brief analysis of the characteristics of various industries and occupations in the urban and rural communities. A more thorough study would be necessary in order to situate the unemployment problem in its total context.


The percentage of families affected by unemployment increases as we move away from the large urban centres. The same relationship exists when we consider the percentage of families who have drawn unemployment insurance during the year. Even if it is the big cities which have the largest absolute number of unemployed, as the official statistics indicate, it is in those centres where their relative number is the smallest. In terms of probability, the urban worker is therefore less exposed to unemployment than his opposite number in the remote rural areas.

The average length of the period of unemployment varies very little from one place to another. It is about four months. It is therefore not the duration of unemployment which varies from one community to the other, but rather the probability of becoming unemployed.

The place of present residence is the chief factor associated with unemployment. Whatever his place of birth, the worker living in the rural community is more exposed to unemployment than the one living in the city. Moreover, the worker born in the urban community is less exposed to unemployment than the one who is born in the country. There is therefore reason to believe that the worker of city origin is better prepared to find steady employment. Finally, workers of rural origins, considerably decrease the probability of being unemployed by migrating to the city. It would seem important to verify this relationship with wider samples before accepting it absolutely. However, a brief analysis of the occupational structure in rural and urban communities may make it possible to explain in part the lower rate of unemployment that is characteristic of the urban community.

We must bear in mind, first of all, that unemployment affects primarily the unskilled workers. This tendency has been shown by al! the studies on unemployment in Canada. In our population 90 per cent of the workers who were unemployed during the year were semi-skilled workers or labourers. It must also be remembered that in Canada seasonal unemployment is one of the main forms, if not the main form of unemployment. Moreover, the seasonal industries employ a very large number of unskilled workers (stevedores, lumber-cutters, construction labourers, transport labourers, etc.). The level of qualification of the rural workers is lower than that of the urban workers. That may be explained by their lower level of education, but also by the nature of the jobs which they can find in their community. The great majority of rural jobs are seasonal (bush work, transportation, construction work, road building, mining etc.) and require few qualifications. Moreover, the rural worker has difficulty finding a job in his locality. At least half of the rural workers must travel to their place of work. Quite often those journeys are so great that the worker is obliged to spend several days and even several weeks away from his home. Once he is out of work, the rural worker may therefore prefer to remain at home and draw unemployment insurance benefits before exiling himself once more in order to look for work.


The consequences of unemployment at the level of family life are fairly easy to predict. It is perhaps for that reason that few researchers have attempted to analyze them in terms of concrete examples. The systematic analysis of those consequences is, however, important if we wish to know the exact nature of this social evil, unemployment.

The standard of living of families subject to unemployment is lower than that of other families. The available income per unit of consumption is decidedly lower. Half of the families where the head is out of work have an annual income of less than $900 per unit of consumption. The possession of the personal property common to French-Canadian homes is measured by an index. Families where there is unemployment own fewer house hold goods than other families. Thus, not only is current income lower, but the total investment in goods is lower too. From that it can be assumed that the precariousness of the economic situation is not a recent, accidental phenomenon, but a state which lasts for some time.

It is perhaps in regard to the steps taken to insure the security of the family that the destitution of the unemployed is most pronounced. We built a security index: the items comprising that index are the possession of life insurance, health insurance, a pension plan, etc. Nearly half the families of unemployed workers have no guarantee of security in case of family disaster, while 74 per cent of the other families have an acceptable combination of insurance plans in case of unforeseen emergencies. The family of the unemployed worker therefore has to suffer not only from the hardships due to the lack of work, but is also vulnerable to all unforeseen calamities which may strike it.

Another important point is, that the unemployed predict that owing to lack of money they will not be able to give their children the minimum of education which they consider necessary in our modern society. If this prediction comes true, the children, for lack of adequate preparation, will have to be employed as labourers or semi-skilled workers when they begin their careers. The probability of their becoming unemployed in their turn will therefore be fairly great (especially if we consider the future progress of automation). Unemployment may therefore easily become a heritage that is perpetuated from generation to generation.

The fact that the unemployed have less chance to provide a sufficient income for their families in case of emergencies or illness is one indication of the difficulty they have in saving. Actually, the premiums of the various forms of insurance necessary for security of the family are savings which the unemployed person does not succeed in making. We find this inability to save when it comes to savings in the form of bank deposits or purchases of bonds. When the family exposed to unemployment does succeed in saving, it does so in order to provide against contingencies that are likely to occur soon. The families whose heads have a steady job ordinarily save for a more or less indefinite and remote purpose. The unemployed person who manages to save usually has to withdraw his savings to meet the necessities of daily life. For all the families exposed to unemployment, the indebtedness during a year is greater than the savings.


These few considerations on the geographical distribution of unemployment and on the socio-economic condition of the unemployed worker's family pose more problems, in fact, than they enable us to solve. Unemployment is a major economic and sociological problem. The politicians who seek to find a solution to it should, in our opinion, base themselves on research centred on two main poles. After defining the various types of unemployment (seasonal, structural, etc.,) they should determine the incidence of those types according to the economic regions, urban and rural communities, etc. This analysis should be accompanied by a structure-functional analysis of the regional economies. There no doubt exist some large-scale economic remedies for unemployment (increased exports, deficit budgeting, etc.). But to be really effective, most of those measures need an organic adaptation to the local situation. No doubt such measures also demand some co-ordination between the various sectors of industry and various levels of government.

However, unemployment does not only have causes, it also has effects on the life of society, on family life and on the life of the individual. Our observations have enabled us to show that the whole phenomenon of unemployment does not strike just any workers, but rather particular classes of workers. Among heads of families, unemployment appears to be a more or less hereditary phenomenon in the less favoured environments. This is not an accident in the career of an individual, but rather a more or less permanent state peculiar to certain individuals. This permanence of unemployment at the individual level, is creating among us a real proletariat characterized by a very low standard of living, the total absence of security in case of emergencies, and the impossibility of aspiring to a better lot for future generations. It is important that this first analysis of the problem should be supplemented by an analysis of the effects of unemployment on the single worker. Likewise, it would be important to determine the implications both for the family and for the single person of various types of unemployment.

Such research would make it possible not only to prepare programs of economic expansion and of co-ordination of industries, but also to ensure greater economic and social security through the adoption of measures proportionate to the needs of the various types of workers. Thus, it would be possible, we hope, to nip this emerging proletariat in the bud.