The Staggering Job Loss of the Pandemic

The Staggering Job Loss of the Pandemic
A cyclist rides past closed stores on Robson Street in Vancouver on May 6, 2020. (The Canadian Press/Darryl Dyck)
Shane Miller

Philip Cross, who spent part of his 36 years at Statistics Canada as chief economic analyst, thought the job losses during the 2008 global financial crisis were off the charts. But the losses amid the pandemic have beaten that by a long shot.

“I was at StatsCan in 2009, and I thought it was insane that we lost 100,000 jobs. And the losses now are even more staggering,” Cross, now a senior fellow at the Macdonald Laurier Institute (MLI), said in an interview.

“Auto workers are used to recessions happening once every decade and they save money. But people who work for airlines and other services, they never expected to lose their job, because of specialized skills and what have you.”

In March and April, around 3 million jobs were lost due to the lockdown measures, according to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey.

In July, as restrictions were lifted and businesses reopened, employment rose, with 418,500 jobs added. This contributed to the total 1.7 million jobs recovered from May to July—though the July job gain was mostly in part-time work. The economy managed to add 246,000 jobs in August and 378,000 jobs in September.

But there are concerns that any such gains may be short-lived due to the second wave, which has meant increased restrictions. Ontario and Quebec have extended restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and other gathering venues—impacting service workers once again.

An RBC report released in mid-July found that the recession caused by the pandemic dealt an “unprecedented blow” to women given the dominant role they play in the sectors hardest hit by the lockdowns.

It said women’s employment has been slower to rebound than men’s, which will likely have a more significant impact on the country’s economic recovery.

“Women’s increased participation in the labour market has provided an enormous lift to the economy’s performance. And this year’s recovery likely won’t be enough to restore women’s participation rate to pre-COVID levels—a factor that carries significant economic consequences.”

Economist Armine Yalnizyan has characterized the pandemic-induced recession as a “she-cession” due to its impact on service sector jobs. And what has made it harder for women to get back to work—thereby setting back overall economic recovery—is the lack of adequate child-care infrastructure, Yalnizyan tells The Epoch Times.

“A good chunk of women who lost their jobs were moms,” she says.

“I don’t say child care is the magic bullet, but our failed capacity to provide child care makes it hard for women to want to take on safe work and juggle working from home, home schooling, and child care,” says Yalnizyan, a fellow with the Atkinson Foundation.

“This is the first recession in history that women lost more jobs than men initially. It is more likely that women will lose employment opportunities due to their preoccupation with unpaid care. It’s not a unique ‘women’ recession,’ but it’s the first time it’s hit them first. Men also rebounded from the job loss much quicker.”

The disproportionate impact of the pandemic on women also reflects the disparities between higher-wage and lower-wage earning workers, Yalnizyan says, as well as the divide between parents and non-parents.

“Higher-wage workers rebounded faster than lower-wage earners as well. These jobs are likely not coming back. Women are disproportionately included in the lower-wage category, along with non-white people and young people. There is less you can do about the high-wage and low-wage divide than the parent non-parent divide.”

Cross agrees women were disproportionately impacted at the beginning of the pandemic, but says that has now changed. According to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey, the impact between the sexes levelled off in April.

In an MLI commentary in October titled “She-session? Men and women now hurting equally from pandemic job losses,” Cross cited Statistics Canada data showing that women’s employment recovered slightly faster than men’s between April and August. He argues that the focus should be on the severity of the job loss for both sexes and on helping people in the hard-hit industries regardless of their identity.

“I did write at the start of this for MLI that it was disproportionately more women. But then you look at the data now, it’s millions of jobs between men and women, so policy has to be oriented toward helping all of them get back to work,” he says.

“In terms of groups, this is hurting those in industries like air transport, cinemas, restaurants, hotels, etc., and we need to focus on helping these people regardless of what the identity is. They’re going to be crushed … especially with another wave and the restrictions.”

To alleviate the situation, he says, government policy should become more focused on supporting businesses in addition to supporting employees.

“At this point, I think the ideal policy is increasing support for businesses,” he says.

“Businesses are under a lot of pressure at the moment, and the policy has been more focused on the individual employees. Businesses are facing shutdown, and I don’t think a lot of the businesses are going to make it. The businesses have utilities, mortgages, property taxes, and all of these things they need to keep up with, so we need to support both workers and businesses.”