Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)

Industrial Summary

Social Assistance

NAICS 6241; 6242; 6243; 6244

This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in providing social assistance such as counselling, welfare, youth protection, community housing, vocational rehabilitation and child care. It is composed of four segments: individual and family services which include child and youth services and services for the elderly and persons with disabilities; community food and housing, and emergency and other relief services; vocational rehabilitation services such as providing job counselling, job training and work experience to unemployed or underemployed persons and persons with disabilities; and child day-care services, including pre-kindergarten educational programs. Individual and family services along with child day-care services are the two largest segments of the industry, accounting for 47% and 46% of employment respectively in 2016. The remaining share of employment (7%) is evenly split between the other two segments. The 4-digit NAICS breakdown for GDP is not available. Overall, the industry employed 503,900 workers in 2016, with a workforce primarily composed of women (88%) and characterized by a significant concentration of part-time workers (24%). Employment is distributed almost proportionately to population: 34% in Ontario, 31% in Quebec, 12% in British Columbia, 9% in Alberta, and 15% in the remaining provinces. Key occupations (4-digit NOC) include:

  • Early childhood educators and assistants (4214)
  • Social and community service workers (4212)
  • Home support workers, housekeepers and related occupations (4412)
  • Social workers (4152)
  • Family, marriage and other related counsellors (4153)
  • Managers in social, community and correctional services (0423)
  • Social policy researchers, consultants and program officers (4164)
  • Cooks (6322)
  • Registered nurses and registered psychiatric nurses (3012)
  • Employment counsellors (4156)
  • Instructors of persons with disabilities (4215)

Social assistance is a central component of Canada’s welfare state. It comprises a set of need-based, last-resort income programs for Canadians who require support for a variety of reasons, including financial difficulties during bad economic times. As a result, many components of social assistance are inversely related to negative fluctuations in Canada’s economy. Demographic trends also have a significant impact on demand for social assistance, particularly for services provided to child, youth and the elderly. During and shortly after the recession of 2008-2009, output increased at an acelerating pace as the slump in the economy forced many Canadians to seek welfare in response to the rapid increase in unemployment. Output growth slowed from 2011 to 2013 when the economy was doing better, before accelerating again from 2014 to 2016, largely reflecting economic difficulties and the surge in unemployment in the oil-producing provinces (Alberta, Saskatchewan and Newfoundland-Labrador) following the collapse in crude oil prices. Renewed growth in child population (ages 1-4 and ages 5-11) and accelerating growth in population aged 65 and over also contributed to expand output in social assistance during the past decade, particularly in child day-care services and individual and family services, including services to the elderly. On average, real GDP in the industry increased at an annual rate of 3.8% over the period 2007-2016, largely exceeding the pace of growth in the Canadian economy. However, employment growth was much weaker, averaging 1.4% annually as a large part of growth in output was met by solid gains in productivity. Indeed, surging fiscal deficits in the afterwards of the 2008-2009 recession forced most provincial governments to restrain labour costs in social programs and implement innovative approaches to increase the efficiency of delivering services.

Over the projection period, output growth in the industry is expected to weaken significantly relative to the period 2007-2016, largely reflecting stronger economic growth and robust labour market conditions in Canada in the short-term. The slower pace of growth anticipated in population aged 1 to 4 over the next ten years is also expected to lower ouput growth somewhat in child-day care services. On the other hand, population aging and faster growth in population aged 5 to 17 is expected to strenghten output growth in individual and familiy services, particularly social services provided to the elderly, children and youth. Massive retirements of baby-boomers from the labour market are also projected to restrain growth in disposable income over the longer term, and those who have not managed to save enough to fund their retirement years may require financial support (a development made even more precarious by the fact that interest rates have remained at historically low levels since 2009, restraining the rate of return on financial assets). On average, real GDP in social assistance is projected to increase at an annual rate of 2.4% over the period 2017-2026, a notable deceleration relative to the previous ten years, essentially due to better economic prospects in the short-term (growth is expected to accelerate in the second half of the projection period). In comparison, the rate of growth in employment is projected to be relatively similar to the past decade, averaging 1.3% annually. Productivity should continue to account for a significant part of output growth, given additional pressures anticipated on public finances. Indeed, demographic changes are projected to constrain employment and real GDP growth in Canada in the longer term, which in turn will reduce growth in government revenues and limit the capacity of governments to increase expenditures, including spending on social services. In such a context, social assistance providers are expected to keep developing innovative approaches and implement new labour-saving ways of delivering services, leading to additional gains in productivity.

Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Social Assistance

Figure showing the annual growth of real GDP and employment over the periods 2007-2016 and 2017-2026 for the industry of Social Assistance. The data is shown on the table following this figure

Source: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2017 COPS industrial scenario (projections).

Text Version of Figure Real GDP and Employment Growth Rates in Social Assistance, 2007-2016 and 2017-2026, in Percent
  Real GDP Employment
2007-2016 3.8 1.4
2017-2026 2.4 1.3

Source: Statistics Canada (historical) and ESDC 2017 COPS industrial scenario (projections).

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