Ontario has its share of slackers
The Globe and Mail
By Neil Reynolds
OTTAWA—Speaking of former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard’s lament (“Quebeckers work less than Ontarians and Americans”), Ontario shouldn’t necessarily think itself the perfect model of a productive modern work ethic.
Yes, Ontario is the fifth-richest nation on Earth, using the Ignatieff definition of nationhood. Among countries with equal or larger populations, Ontario is second only to the United States. But stack Ontario up against 14 comparable U.S. states and it drops to the bottom of the heap — though it remains higher than Quebec. (In these economic evaluations, think of Ontario as Upper Canada and Quebec as Lower Canada.) Both provinces have work ethic issues. The consequences are the same. Compared with their principal competitors across the border, Ontario and Quebec are growing poorer.
Quebeckers book off more than all other Canadians. Ontarians take more vacations. In either case, the result is fewer hours of work per worker. In the 1960s and 1970s, the average Ontario worker punched the same number of hours as the average U.S. worker. Now the Ontario worker punches 3.5 weeks a year less. For the worker who gets more weeks of paid vacations than he or she used to get, this is fine. For this worker’s employer, it’s another business expense. For the Ontario economy, the loss in GDP equals $3,700 per person per year. Extrapolate this to a family of four and the economic cost of longer vacations equals $14,800 a year.
This analysis comes from the Toronto-based Institute for Competitiveness and Prosperity, the research agency of the Task Force on Competitiveness, Productivity and Economic Progress. The task force itself is a team of economists that advises the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Trade on ways to make the province more competitive.
In its most recent report, “Time on the Job,” published in September, the institute analyzed labour force “intensity” — the percentage of people who work in any particular province or state and the number of hours clocked per worker.
The institute had already calculated Ontario’s “prosperity gap” with the 14 states that most resemble Ontario and that comprise Ontario’s primary competitors. Massachusetts takes top position with $60,900 in per-capita GDP (expressed in Canadian currency, 2004 dollars). In descending order, with $50,000-$60,000 in per-capita GDP, are New Jersey, New York, Virginia, California and Illinois. With $40,000-$50,000 in per-capita GDP: North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio, Indiana and Florida — and, last, Ontario. Median per-capita GDP in this “peer group” of competitors: $47,800. Ontario’s per-capita GDP: $41,800. The per-capita prosperity gap between Ontario and its cross-border rivals: $6,000.
In its most recent report, the institute compares this prosperity gap with hours worked. With 1,934 hours a year on the job, the average Texan worker took top position. With more than 1,900 hours: Georgia, Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, Indiana, California and Illinois.
With more than 1,800 hours: New Jersey, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Massachusetts. Only Ontario (1,739 hours) and Quebec (1,690 hours) worked fewer than 1,800 hours.
The Ontario worker, in other words, worked five weeks less than the Texas worker; the Quebec workers, six weeks less. Ontario’s reasons: More people work part-time than in the United States; more people have shorter workweeks (35 hours or 37 hours rather than 40); and more people have longer vacations (63 hours more). Add it up and, compared with the Americans, Ontario workers get an extra 17 days off a year.
Ontario and Quebec aren’t the only places where the work ethic has slipped.
The most remarkable declines in the past 30 years took place in Japan and France. For Japan, the average worker went from 2,250 hours a year in 1976 to 1,800 hours — 11 weeks less. For France, the average workers went from 1,900 hours in 1976 to 1,550 hours. People often excuse France’s erosion on the basis that the French have a cultural preference for leisure time and are content to pay the price for it in lower wages. “Time on the Job” begs to differ. It cites research that Americans have gained much more leisure time than the French, without sacrificing wages.
European women, for example, spend 10 hours more per week on cooking, cleaning and child care than American women. That’s 520 hours a year — equivalent to 13 weeks off work. More than half of U.S. households have dishwashers compared with only 32 per cent of French households. More than 85 per cent of American households have microwave ovens versus only 19 per cent of French households. More than 80 per cent of American households have clothes dryers versus 12 per cent of French households. And more American families have the incomes to hire domestic help.
Roger Martin, chairman of the research institute and dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, observes that the cost of Ontario’s lost labour falls most heavily on workers who are “least skilled and most vulnerable to the vicissitudes of the economy.” As always. But Ontario must remain competitive for other reasons, too. It’s got equalization payments to make.