Finance

No recovery without ‘she-covery’: Women bear the brunt of latest jobs decline

Two-thirds of the 500,000 jobs yet to be reclaimed are women’s

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The latest batch of hiring data has reignited fears that the COVID-19 crisis will impact women’s job prospects more harshly than men’s, causing the recovery to stretch on for even longer.

Statistics Canada published data on May 7 that showed that women account for two-thirds of the 500,000 jobs that have yet to be reclaimed during the recovery from last year’s historic economic collapse.

Armine Yalnizyan, an economist and Atkinson fellow on the future of workers, was surprised by the degree to which women continue to trail men. Overall, the population of employed people aged 25 to 54 fell by 48,000 positions in April from March, Statistics Canada said. The majority of the losses in that group were women with full-time jobs. The participation rate of women aged 15 to 24 further exemplified the unequal nature of the recovery, as younger men are now working at roughly the same rate as they were before the crisis, whereas the participation rate of younger women remains four percentage points lower.

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Mathematically speaking, we cannot get to an (economic) recovery without a she-covery

Armine Yalnizyan, an economist and Atkinson fellow on the future of workers

“Mathematically speaking, we cannot get to an (economic) recovery without a she-covery,” Yalnizyan said. “There just aren’t enough men to make up the difference.”

The numbers are a reminder of why the Bank of Canada continues to press ahead with aggressive monetary policy despite signs that inflation is heating up, and why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government has spent so heavily on emergency benefits. A decade ago, the recovery from the Great Recession was frustratingly slow, in part because governments ended their stimulus efforts too soon. This time, policy-makers have pledged to err on the side of growth.

Still, low interest rates and big deficits can only do so much to offset the lockdowns and partial lockdowns that authorities have adopted to slow the spread of the virus. Women and younger workers are feeling the brunt of those measures because they tend to dominate the industries that have been effectively closed for much of the past year.

The stimulus is keeping the economy afloat, but the longer men and women remain unemployed, the harder it will be for them to get back in the labour force. A legacy of the crisis could be tens of thousands of workers who never reach their full potential, as businesses are more inclined to hire fresher prospects.

“As you fall out of the workforce, you’re not using your skills and that’s a real concern in the long-term,” said Leah Nord, the senior director of workforce strategies and inclusive growth at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. Nord said women are especially at risk of being left behind because they tend to be the first to abandon paid work to care for their household’s children.

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No recovery without 'she-covery': Women bear the brunt of latest jobs decline

To be sure, men in vulnerable industries are struggling, too. Statistics Canada said the number of young men working either full-time or part-time jobs plummeted 4.7 per cent in April. The drop for younger women was a less severe 3.6 per cent.

Overall, women in all aged 25 to 54 worked 7.7 per cent fewer hours last month, compared to a 5.5-per-cent drop for men in the same age category.

From Yalnizyan’s perspective, one of the more pertinent ways Canada can ensure an equal recovery is for the governments to boost support for childcare, which has become excessively expensive in many of Canada’s biggest cities. If a lack of adequate childcare bars women from entering the workforce, “it will take us much longer to get back to so-called normal,” she said.

Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland promised to spend $10 billion on a national childcare program in her budget last month, but she didn’t pretend all that money would make a big difference soon. The provinces govern daycare and no program will go ahead until they agree to participate. Freeland set a target of five years.

It might be faster to train women to work in the trades and other professions that struggle to find qualified labour. Nord said that it’s imperative policy and the private sector encourage women back into the workforce by way of proper retraining.

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