Low survey response rates are tainting economic data

Canadians are turning away from economic surveys, a development that’s hurting far more than just the feelings of the Stats Canada surveyors knocking on their doors. 

Driving the news: Stats Canada is struggling to get businesses and households to respond to its Labour Force Survey, a trend that could distort key economic data, per The Globe and Mail. The most recent response rate has fallen from 87% in 2019 to 70% in September.

  • Data from the Labour Force Survey is really important, offering indicators like monthly changes in employment, the unemployment rate, and average wages.

  • Stats Canada relies on tens of thousands of in-person interviews for the survey, but the response rate hasn’t returned to pre-Covid levels after grinding to a halt in 2020. 

Why it matters: A dwindling survey response rate hurts the credibility of the data and, more importantly, the insights drawn from it. Given how crucial labour numbers are to informing policy decisions, the increasingly small sample size of respondents is a concerning trend. 

  • Last year, a Canadian Public Policy paper found that the lower survey response rates led StatCan to underreport the impact that the first wave of Covid-19 had on jobs. 

Zoom out: The UK and the US are also struggling with dwindling response rates. The UK’s statistics agency postponed the release of its labour market data in October over concerns that the small sample size of survey respondents would affect the report's accuracy.

Yes, but: The sample size is certainly shrinking, but Stats Canada says that the quality of its data remains high. A director general for the agency says survey respondents still represent a demographic composition that provides a holistic picture of the country.—LA