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Employment Insurance Coverage Survey, 2018

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Released: 2019-11-14

In 2018, about 1.1 million Canadians were unemployed at some point in the year. Of these, 63.9% (709,000) had contributed to the Employment Insurance (EI) program.

Among those who had contributed to EI and also had a valid job separation, 87.4% had accumulated enough insurable hours to be eligible to receive regular EI benefits, up 3.1 percentage points from 84.3% in 2017. This rise in the EI eligibility rate was driven by an increase among youth aged 15 to 24.

Chart 1  Chart 1: Eligibility rate increased in 2018¹
Eligibility rate increased in 2018¹

EI eligibility up in four provinces, led by Saskatchewan

Consistent with previous years, eligibility rates for regular EI benefits varied across provinces in 2018, ranging from 79.6% in Alberta to 98.2% in Prince Edward Island.

Following a low in 2017, the EI eligibility rate increased the most in Saskatchewan (+16.9 percentage points). The rate also rose in Ontario (+9.1 percentage points), Nova Scotia (+7.8 percentage points) and Prince Edward Island (+3.9 percentage points).

The eligibility rate declined in Newfoundland and Labrador (-2.9 percentage points) and was little changed in the remaining provinces.

Chart 2  Chart 2: Saskatchewan recorded the largest change in the Employment Insurance eligibility rate from 2017 to 2018
Saskatchewan recorded the largest change in the Employment Insurance eligibility rate from 2017 to 2018

Eligibility rate up for youth

In 2018, the EI eligibility rate for youth aged 15 to 24 was 60.5%, up from a record low of 40.7% in 2017.

The eligibility rate for youth has historically been lower than the rate for older age groups, as youth are less likely to accumulate a sufficient number of insurable work hours and are more likely to have an invalid job separation. Reasons not deemed valid by the EI program include voluntarily leaving a job without just cause, including leaving a job to go back to school.

Among youth in 2018, the number of contributors with a valid job separation declined, while the number of contributors who accumulated a sufficient number of insurable hours was little changed. This coincided with a notable rise in the number of youth who left their job to go back to school in 2018. Since 2003, the eligibility rate for youth has ranged between 41% and 63%.

The eligibility rate among people aged 25 to 44 was little changed at 90.7% in 2018, and it was virtually unchanged for those aged 45 and over (90.5%).

Eligibility rate increases for women

In 2018, 86.1% of unemployed female contributors with a valid job separation had enough insurable hours to be eligible to receive regular benefits, up 4.0 percentage points from 2017 and the highest rate since comparable data became available in 2003. For men, the eligibility rate was little changed at 88.3% in 2018.

Maternity and parental benefits

In addition to regular EI benefits, there are other types, including maternity and parental benefits.

In 2018, 75.3% of all new mothers (those with a child aged 12 months or less) had insurable employment, down from 78.5% in 2017. This proportion has been relatively stable since 2003, ranging between 74% and 79%. Among these insured mothers, 88.5% received maternity and/or parental benefits in 2018, little changed compared with 2017.

Quebec, which provides separate maternity and parental benefits through the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP), continued to have a high share of new mothers with insurable employment (87.4%) and the highest proportion of insured new mothers receiving maternity or parental benefits (96.6%). In the rest of Canada, 85.4% of new mothers with insurable employment received maternity or parental benefits in 2018, little changed from 2017.

Across all provinces, the average duration of paid and/or unpaid leave taken or planned by recent mothers who had worked as an employee within the previous two years was 11.6 months, unchanged compared with 2017. More than one in five (22.9%) of these mothers took or planned to take more than 12 months away from work.

Nationally, the share of spouses or partners of recent mothers who claimed or intended to claim parental benefits was 31.3% in 2018, little changed from 2017.

In Quebec, the proportion was 79.6% in 2018, also little changed compared with one year earlier. The share of spouses or partners claiming benefits is typically higher in Quebec, as the QPIP includes benefits that apply exclusively to the second parent. In the rest of Canada, the proportion of spouses or partners of recent mothers who claimed or intended to claim parental benefits was 15.0% in 2018, up from 11.9% in 2017.

Outside of Quebec, the most frequent reason mothers reported for their spouses or partners not claiming or intending to claim benefits was "mother wants to stay home" (32.7%).

  Note to readers

The Employment Insurance Coverage Survey sheds light on the coverage of the Employment Insurance (EI) program. It provides an overview of who does or does not have access to EI regular benefits as well as to maternity and parental benefits

To be eligible to receive regular benefits, unemployed individuals have to: (a) contribute to the EI program, (b) meet the criteria for job separation (that is, have a valid job separation) and (c) have accumulated enough insurable hours over the past 12 months.

Job separations that are deemed invalid to receive regular benefits include, among others, quitting the job without just cause (including leaving a job to go to school, dissatisfaction with the job and retirement) or dismissal with cause.

The number of unemployed people who had accumulated enough insurable hours to be eligible to receive regular EI benefits, expressed as a proportion of unemployed people who were covered by the EI program and separated from their job for a reason deemed valid by the program, is known as the "eligibility rate."

The number of insured hours required to qualify for regular benefits varies across geographic regions, ranging from 420 to 700 hours, depending on the region's unemployment rate. The higher the unemployment rate, the lower the number of hours required to qualify for benefits. For maternity and parental benefits (excluding Quebec), the required number of insured hours to qualify for benefits is 600. Eligibility for benefits under the Quebec Parental Insurance Plan (QPIP) is not based on a minimum number of insured hours.

There are two main reasons for not contributing to the EI program: not having worked in the previous 12 months (which includes those who have never worked), and non-insurable employment (which includes self-employment).

The survey is administered to a sub-sample of respondents of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) four times a year, namely in April, July, November and January. Respondents are asked questions about their situation during the LFS reference week in the month prior to being interviewed (March, June, October and December respectively). The estimates are produced for the reference year by averaging over the four cycles covered by the survey.

In 2018, the total sample size was 13,570 people, composed of unemployed individuals (as defined by the LFS) and other individuals who, given their recent status in the labour market, were potentially eligible for EI.

This analysis focuses on differences between estimates that are statistically significant at the 68% confidence level.

The survey is conducted on behalf of Employment and Social Development Canada.

Employment Insurance policy changes

In December 2017, EI policy changes came into effect that included the introduction of extended parental benefits, allowing parents to choose between receiving benefits for up to 12 months at the standard rate, or for up to 18 months at a lower rate. More flexibility was also introduced for pregnant workers as to when they can start receiving maternity benefits.

Also, effective August 2018, further changes included a program to support adults who want to return to school and upgrade their skills. People who are out of work now have more flexibility to take training and continue receiving regular EI benefits.


The product Employment Insurance Coverage Survey: Public Use Microdata Files, 2018 (Catalogue number89M0025X) is now available.

Contact information

For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact us (toll-free 1-800-263-1136; 514-283-8300; or Media Relations (613-951-4636;

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