Thursday, November 22, 2007

Is EI sexist?

I already have a feeling I'm stepping into a hornet's nest on this one...

Came across some interesting reading today -- especially pertinent considering Krystal's recent job loss and subsequent need to apply for employment insurance to tide her over until she's back on those field-hockey-playing feet of hers.

A report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives claims that EI, as it's currently structured in Canada, is biased against women. The report says that while 40% of unemployed men qualified for EI in 2004, only 32% of women were. The reason for this, the report concludes, is that unfair rules concerning how many hours your have to log to qualify are stacked against women. In the words of the report's authors: "it doesn't take into account the fact that women have to be out of the workforce for periods to look after their children and that may make it harder for them to qualify for benefits." (italics mine)

Is it me, or is that a curious position to take?

I won't dispute that women, the way our society is currently set up, do a disproportionately large amount of house and family-related work. And I imagine that certainly would put a damper on their career opportunities, or indeed any other aspect of their lives. But isn't it shooting yourself in the foot to set out on a feminist cause that something is biased against women, and then say "women have to be out of the workforce to take care of children" as one of your arguments at the same time? Is that not making a pretty large deductive leap that that's what all women want? Or worse, are worth?

To me, the real meat of this issue is the face that EI, as it's currently set up, is taking in far more money than it will ever pay out in premiums because of too-restrictive requirements to qualify. That's for everyone, whether you quit your job to have children as a man or a woman, or whether you're a seasonal worker somewhere. The cards are simply stacked in the casino's favour, here. I expect that sort of activity from a private insurance company, but not from a government entity allegedly doing this as a service to citizens. EI rakes in a $2-billion surplus a year, and currently is sitting on more than $51-billion since it was revamped in the 1990s. More than $51-billion or your money!

You can argue all you want that the EI system is unfair, but I'm having a hard time seeing the sexism. There's nothing that says women have to be the ones who stay home, or work reduced hours, to take care of kids, just as there's nothing that says men can't do the same. Under these rules, if a man left his job to raise children, wouldn't the system be just as unfair to him?

I get that there's a systemic inefficiency here. I'm just not seeing the sexism. The argument that we need to revamp EI so that women can go back to making babies seems like a ridiculous one to me on many different levels.

Food for thought, anyway. I'd love to hear feedback from women in the comments.


nancy (aka money coach) said...

I think the wording is a bit off, but the underlying principle stands. Just as women still earn, in aggregate, significantly less than men, in this case, fewer women have the hours required to qualify for UI. That raises the interesting question (well, both facts do): Why is this the case? I don't know if there's any empirical data to support it, but the conclusion is ... because they are doing one of the jobs a society needs done: taking care of the next generation.

So far, women are doing the bulk of this job - why, is mostly irrelevent. So how does this economically impact one particular gender? A variety of ways we can all think of: 'time out' of career building. Fewer hours on 'paid' work. etc. And one implication of these is less likelihood of qualifying for EI.

So when one particular gender is economically disadvantaged because they are disproportionately taking on a particular societal task, it does become a feminist issue.

GIV said...

Good points, nancy, and fair enough.

I guess my issue is I just don't see a causal relationship here. That women are economically disadvantaged in our society and that EI is poorly designed are both true, but unrelated.

The implication I got is that EI was designed to deny women, and I just don't see a foundation for that.

nancy (aka money coach) said...

Is the implication that EI was 'designed to deny women' or is the implication that the way EI is designed will result in those-who-take-care-of-the-next-generation will be prejudiced, which is longhand for 'women'?
I agree though - it could just as well be men, if men were more frequently the ones who were taking time out of their careers (which is indeed the case).
So actually, I don't think we're disagreeing.
The question to put to EI would be: how do we compensate for the fact that some people, regardless of gender, will be marginized from EI benefits simply due to the fact that they are performing an important society function?

nancy (aka money coach) said...

yikes - just re-read my comment. excuse some of the typos.