VI. LEVEL OF EDUCATION
One of the more intriguing questions for welfare analysts in recent years is whether large
numbers of able-bodied people are "trapped on welfare" because they lack the education or skills
needed to get decent jobs or whether they wind up on welfare primarily because the economy
is not creating enough jobs.
Most provincial governments have come to accept the trapped on welfare explanation and
are placing greater emphasis on enhancing the employability of welfare recipients. A few
provinces have taken extraordinary steps to get welfare recipients to upgrade their education or
participate in training programs to improve their job readiness. Ontario has gone to the extreme
of incorporating "workfare" into its welfare system. Under workfare, able-bodied people could
be forced to do specific jobs as a condition of welfare. Most of the workfare jobs that
are created in the months ahead are expected to be menial or dead-end jobs.
The statistics on education in the welfare database are far from conclusive, but they raise
questions about some of these provincial efforts. They suggest that many heads of welfare cases
have enough schooling to get at least a toehold in the work force, and they also suggest that
disability or aging may be bigger problems than lack of education for many welfare recipients.
Roughly speaking, heads of cases with a high school education or better tend to have job-
related reasons for being on welfare. People with less than a high school education are more
likely to have a disability as a reason for assistance. The welfare database also shows that low
levels of education are more of a problem in Atlantic Canada than in other parts of the country.
The data on education are less complete and less precise than the data in other chapters
of this report.
The database is missing information for British Columbia, most of the information for
New Brunswick, municipal welfare cases in Nova Scotia and Manitoba, and provincial welfare
cases in Ontario. A sizable number of cases fell into the "other and unknown" category. The
provincial reports cover no more than 954,652 cases or 64 percent of the estimated national
caseload of 1,494,800 cases as of March 1997. For some cross-tabulations, the sample
size drops to 43 percent.
The figures are less precise because of differences in provincial education systems and
also because of ambiguities in the categories used in the database. Some provinces consider that
"secondary school" starts in Grade 7, while others say it starts in Grade 9. Most provinces
reported whether heads of welfare cases had attended a particular level of school rather
than whether they had completed a particular level.
Finally, since education does not determine the size of a person's welfare cheque, welfare
workers may not always ask if the information that they have on education is up to date. People
who are on and off welfare several times over the course of the years, for example, could
complete their education between spells on welfare and never have the change recorded in
their welfare files.
Graph K gives an overview of the available data in all provinces except British Columbia.
Thirteen percent of the unattached persons or heads of families had no more than a primary
school education, 59 percent had been to secondary school, and 11 percent had attended a
college, university or technical school at the post-secondary level. The level of education of
the remaining 17 percent of the cases is not known.
Some striking differences appear when the data are broken down by province as in
Table 10 on the next page. The four Atlantic provinces had relatively high percentages of
welfare cases where the head had only primary school education and relatively low percentages
of cases where the head had some post-secondary education.
In other provinces, welfare cases where the head had been at least to secondary school
were by far the most common.
TABLE 10 WELFARE CASES BY EDUCATION OF HEAD, 64 PERCENT SAMPLE, MARCH 1997
Other & Unknown
|Prince Edward Island
|Nova Scotia Provincial
NOTE 1: The statistics for Nova Scotia and Manitoba do not include municipal welfare cases.
NOTE 2: The statistics for Ontario include municipal, but not provincial welfare cases.
The database shows striking differences in the reasons for assistance by level of
education, as shown in Graph L on the next page. The data cover all provinces except New
Brunswick, Ontario and British Columbia and municipal welfare cases in Nova Scotia and
Manitoba. The cases shown in the graph add up to 647,557 or 43 percent of the estimated
national total, and the three pies where the levels of education were reported added up
to 521,282 cases or 35 percent of the national total. The white slices of the pies show that job-related reasons for welfare increased with a
person's level of education. Job-related reasons accounted for 34 percent of the cases where
the head never got past primary school, 60 percent of the cases where the person went to secon-
dary school, and 69 percent of cases where the person attended college or university. Conversely, disability as a reason for assistance declined sharply as the level of education
rose. As shown in the black slices of the pies, disability accounted for 36 percent of the cases
where the head of the household had no more than a primary school education. The comparable
figures were 14 percent for heads of welfare cases who had been to high school and 11 percent
for people who had been to college or university. Even with the gaps and shortcomings in the database, it seems clear that many of the
people on welfare who are poorly educated are people with disabilities. Some of them may face
barriers that are more significant than a lack of schooling, and some of them may not be
good candidates for conventional learning programs. Meanwhile, many of the people who are well educated have job-related reasons for being
on welfare. What they really need is more jobs rather than more schooling.
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