This paper examines whether restructuring in the public sector contributed to the slower cyclical recovery in Canada than in the United States during the 1990s. Changes in public sector employment are used to investigate this question.
A key determinant of the potential growth of an economy is the rate at which the labour force increases, which depends both on population growth and on changes in the participation rate. Cyclical factors related to the economic environment can play a significant role in affecting the participation rate, as can structural factors and demographic trends. From the mid-1970s to the end of the 1980s, the participation rate rose almost without interruption to a record high of 67.5 per cent. In contrast, between 1990 and 1995, it declined sharply and has been relatively steady at around 65 per cent since 1995.
In this article, the author analyzes the participation rate of age and gender groupings in order to better understand the factors leading to these developments and their implications for future movements in the aggregate rate. While cyclical factors contributed to the decline in the participation rate in the 1990s, structural factors (such as an increase in school attendance rates and the increasing use of computer technology) and demographic trends (the aging of the population) have had a substantial impact. The conclusion reached is that, while some recovery is to be expected, the aggregate participation rate is unlikely to return to its 1989 peak over the next decade or so.