Unemployment rate of those aged 20 to 64 by province and type of disability, 2017

What is this metric and why is it important?

Labour force statistics not only tell us about the health of the economy generally, but also provide insight into who is participating, who is excluded, and who is benefitting. Here we look at the portion of the labour force (those who are working or actively looking for work) who are unemployed, disaggregated by type of disability. 

How is Canada doing?

  • In 2017, those with disabilities had an unemployment rate of 9.8%, which is 4.4 percentage points higher than the population overall. 
  • This was highest for those with cognitive disabilities, with an unemployment rate of 15.9%.
  • Those who are cognitively disabled in PEI had an extremely high unemployment rate of 32.5%, far beyond the rates in other provinces.

Metric discussion

Labour force statistics broken up by disability type are from the Canadian Survey on Disability. The unemployment rate is the portion of the labour force who are not employed. The employed are those who did any work at all at a job or business. This includes persons who did unpaid family work, which is defined as “unpaid work contributing directly to the operation of a farm, business or professional practice owned and operated by a related member of the same household.” Finally, this also includes those who had a job but were not at work due to illness, disability, family responsibilities, vacation, or labour disputes. The labour force consists of persons who contribute or are available to contribute to the production of goods and services.

If an inclusive innovation economy is judged on how well it provides opportunities and benefits for those who have been historically marginalized, the employment of people with disabilities provides an instructive case. But this is not simply a test of the system’s inclusiveness; the extent to which people with disabilities are employed is important for their health and well-being. The reality, unfortunately, is that people with disabilities face substantial exclusion—including lower employment and higher unemployment.

While the innovation economy is not the economy at large, the distinction is often murky and ill-defined. Given the broad definition we use for the innovation economy, the participation rate in the larger economy gives a reasonable indication of the employment rate in the innovation economy. Differences across jurisdictions speak to the extent to which people have access to employment opportunities and the accompanying income and benefits.


Unlike the employment rate, the unemployment and participation rates rely on definitions of “the labour force”—i.e., the employed and those looking for employment. A limitation of this approach is that it can be difficult to define what it means to be someone who wants to work. Additionally, it can be difficult to interpret the unemployment rate without looking at both the employment and participation rates. If the unemployment rate decreases, it could mean that  more people are finding a job, or that more people are giving up on finding a job and the labour force is getting smaller.

© Inclusive Innovation Monitor 2021