UBC Theses and Dissertations
A geography of unemployment in Vancouver CMA Daniels, Peter L.
Widespread and persistent high levels of unemployment now appear to be endemic in many "advanced" economies and are commonly recognized as the major socioeconomic problem (with staggering direct and indirect costs on society and individuals) to be confronted by policy and decision-makers in the incipient form of modern Western society. The province of British Columbia (B.C.) in Canada (which contains the principal study area (the Vancouver C.M.A)) lost over six percent of its employed workforce over the two years between July 1982 and July 1984 and currently (in 1985) has the second highest unemployment rate in the nation with levels well above the OEGD average. This study comprises an attempt to identify the nature and causes of unemployment in 1981 in the major metropolitan area in B.C. (the Vancouver CMA), in addition to an assessment of changes in the characteristics of unemployment during the economic downturn that has vexed the province since 1981. The research methodology is sharply divided into a specific focus on the nature of unemployment, and in particular, the processes underlying intra-urban variations in unemployment rates within the Vancouver CMA on one hand, and a more general analysis of regional trends over the 1970's in one major relevant economic sector (the goods-production industries) on the other. Unfortunately, significant problems are faced in the use of data restricted to the exceptionally low unemployment census year of 1981 and the scope of the investigation is necessarily modest given the complexity of the problem and the resources available. The urban level analysis is basically a series of tests (including the regression and correlation of aggregated and individual social and spatial data) to ascertain the relevance of the two major hypotheses of intra-urban spatial variations in unemployment The "trapped" hypothesis stresses the role of space as a direct influence on unemployment probability (often as a perceived joint result of confinement to certain housing locations within the city and the suburbanization of industrial employment demand). The alternative hypothesis explains the pattern of unemployment rates in terms of the concentration of unemployment upon workers with certain socioeconomic characteristics who occupy geographically distinct sections of the housing market From the research results, the role of space in the determination of unemployment probability, within the CMA, appears to be limited. However, there is some evidence that personal characteristics and spatial effects may be simultaneously having some effect on expected unemployment rates and a consideration of spatial separation between labour supply and demand, even within the CMA, may well be important for labour market theory and policy. Hence, the CMA cannot be unequivocally adopted as the appropriate local labour market for all groups of people (divided on the basis of their socioeconomic characteristics and location) in the CMA. The detailed analysis of the personal characteristics of the unemployed has also suggested the high-unemployment probability, in low and high employment demand times, of the lower-skilled and the occupations with the higher proportions of low-skilled workers (generally the manual blue-collar and service occupations! A preliminary analysis of trends in manufacturing production sector changes throughout the 1970's (at the B.C. regional scale) has been completed as a result of the perceived inadequacy of the urban level focus. Although a resolution on the manufacturing production sector has meant only a partial analysis of employment demand, the goods-production industries have been the central area of focus. This sector has been specifically selected in view of a number of restrictions (including data availability and overall research resource constraints) and in order to test the relevance, in the B.C. context, of some of the processes hypothesized in the literature produced by the prolific radical geographers. Unemployment and production activities are usually important aspects of radical theory on the relation between labour and the restructuring of capitalism. The empirical research for this second section is essentially a simple comparison of some major structural characteristics of manufacturing production employment and output in 1971 and 1981 at three geographic scales (based on a core-periphery classification) within the province. Although there is little evidence of the processes hypothesized by the radical geography school, the methodological problems faced are prohibitive and conclusions remain tentative. There is, however, a distinctive trend toward the reduced demand for production labour input With continued capital-intensification in the face of international competition and reduced world demand; together with the direct effect of reduced- output' demand in an historical period that appears to involve a rather dramatic redefinition of B.C.'s role in the world economy, the unemployment problem is unlikely to be substantially reduced in the foreseeable future without a major absorption of displaced labour into rapidly growing, labour-intensive service industries. "Full" employment policy in the contemporary mode, will probably be ineffectual in the B.C. setting.
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