By Catherine GriwkowskyStarMetro Edmonton
Thu., May 17, 2018
EDMONTON—Pipeline inspector and project manager turned stay-at-home dad Chad Miller is pinning his family’s future on the approval of the Kinder Morgan pipeline as he searches for work to pay off debt.
“I’ve got more qualifications than I know what to do with and I can’t even get a damn job to save my soul,” Miller said.
Miller is not alone in his struggle to support his family and rejoin the workforce full time after a downturn in the Alberta oil economy cost him work.
A recent Statistics Canada study shows nationally the number of couples who were working part-year or part-time in 2015 was up to 18 per cent from 14 per cent in 2005.
Part-time workers increased
Meanwhile the proportion of families with one parent working for the full year, full-time with one partner working part time dropped to 30 per cent in 2015 from 34 per cent in 2005. The trend was driven by a downturn in the manufacturing sectors in central Canada and the downturn in oil, Bernard said.
The study’s author Andre Bernard, with Statistics Canada, said parental leave policies, child care, differences in labour market conditions and earnings accounted for regional differences.
“If both parents are reporting not working, or working part-time, these are families that would be more vulnerable to low income,” Bernard said.
Only 19 per cent of families where the youngest child was under six years old in Alberta had both parents working full-year, full-time in 2015, similar to the 20.4 per cent in 2005.
For families with children aged 6 to 17, the number of two-income earner families in Alberta dropped to 31.7 in 2015 from 36.9 per cent in 2005.
The average median income in full-time, single-earner families in the province was $94,000 annually, the highest in Canada. That is compared to the median income of $108,600 in Prince Edward Island where both parents worked a full year, full-time. With single-earner incomes near that of families with two parents working, some Alberta families may opt to have only one parent work, said researcher John Kolkman.
Kolkman, research associate with the Edmonton Social Planning Council, said the census data shows two very different points in Alberta’s economies. In 2005, Alberta was experiencing a boom while in 2015 the province was in recession, which may account for the differences.
“Where one parent works in a pretty highly-paid position, therefore it is more feasible for the other parent not to be working rather than working full-time, so that probably is a factor,” Kolkman said.
Bernard said in Alberta specifically, men are the large majority of single-income earners in families.
Boom and bust
And it is those men, Bernard said, that likely make up the bulk of the increase in parttime, part-year workers due to a downturn in the manufacturing sector in central Canada and the oil industry in Alberta.
In Miller’s 20 years of working in the oilfield sector, taking jobs from Fort St. John, B.C., to Cuba, Miller had seen a few recessions. After the 2008 recession, Miller ensured he had a year’s worth of income saved up.
It wasn’t enough.
As a project manager, Miller could make up to $1,000 a day and worked 338 days in 2014. Last year, he worked 90 days for far less, sometimes $500 per day.
Miller said he had to give back his truck. He’s missing bill payments.
Kolkman said in the downturn there weren’t just layoffs, but reductions in hours as well. These reductions in the oil industry had spillover effects in other areas of the economy.
“People cut back on eating out for example,” Kolkman said. “If you have less disposable income, that affects the hospitality industry. Certainly if you look at rural Alberta, and even in the urban centres, the energy industry supports a lot of these smaller towns in terms of eating and drinking establishments, in terms of hotels and motels.”
Male single earners
Bernard said men account for the majority of single-earners in households.
When times were good, Miller built his wife a salon in the family’s basement so she could give haircuts to clients for extra spending money, but he was the main earner.
Then work for the self-employed contractor dried up, and Miller’s wife had to pick up more work. She is now a full-time instructor in Red Deer, teaching at a hair academy.
His wife’s income puts food on the table, but doesn’t cover the bills, Miller said. Worries over money and finding work has put a strain on his relationship.
Hope for recovery
As he waits for work, he looks after his kids, a 14-year-old daughter, 9-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
“My wife, she tells me, we’re never going to have another kid because every time we have another kid, a recession comes,” Miller said.
During the recession, Miller felt isolated and depressed because he felt like no one wanted to hear the negativity of what he was going through. He stopped answering the phone because the only calls he got were from bill collectors.
After founding the Oilfield Dads Facebook group, Miller has found hope and camaraderie.
He sees optimism when his fellow oilfield dads find work, and on days when he doesn’t see a point in getting out of bed, the group has shown him he’s not alone.
These days, he tells his wife things are getting better — after all, she has a full-time job, they are close to paying off the family’s Jeep and soon they will be able to refinance their mortgage.
“We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to keep going,” Miller said, “and that’s the reality of most Albertans now.”