At least 132,000 people lost their jobs in B.C. last month, in what some are saying is just the first the blow to employment figures during the pandemic.
B.C.’s unemployment rate rose two per cent to 7.2 per cent, just behind the national rate of 7.8 per cent. Canada-wide, more than one million people lost their jobs in March.
“It’s not surprising but it certainly is alarming. What we’re seeing in only a tiny snapshot,” said Marjorie Griffin Cohen, professor emeritus of political science, gender and sexuality at Simon Fraser University.
Cohen said the March figures released Thursday (April 9) are already out of date, because many more layoffs and unemployment claims would have been been filed in April.
What both the B.C. and Canadian unemployment numbers hide, she said is that unemployment only measures people who are actively looking for work, versus the people who have given up looking for work amid the COVID-19 crisis.
The crisis has also led to bigger layoffs in sectors like the arts, hospitality and recreation, which employ more women, Cohen said.
“That accounts for what’s going on with women’s unemployment,” she added,.
According to Statistics Canada, 298,500 women aged 25 to 54 lost their jobs in Canada, totalling a five per cent drop. For men, that drop was two per cent, or 127,600 individuals. Overall, Cohen said the unemployment rate for men in Canada is 7.1 per cent, while it’s 8.7 per cent for women.
Many of the sectors that employ more women are also less likely to come roaring back, Cohen said. According to Restaurants Canada, 10 per cent of eateries have already closed for good.
“A lot of these service-oriented industries, restaurants, places [more] women tend to be employed… a lot of them will fold if this goes on for a long time,” she said.
“It will tend to be the areas where men are more employed, in the resources sector, that will improve.”
The other demographic at greater risk are minimum wage workers are part-time workers and young people.
“It’s really the low wage workers who are getting it this time… they are in areas that are usually paid poorly anyway,” she said, leading to less savings and less cushion to weather a financial crisis.
The benefits rolled out by the federal government will help, she said, even if ultimately it’s not enough.
“Not many people can live on $2,000 a month,” she said, especially in high cost of living places like Vancouver, Victoria or even Kelowna, especially if COVID-19 is around for the longterm.
“I think nobody is expecting anything approaching normalcy before the fall, if even then,” she said. “Unemployment’s going to grow a lot.”
The wage subsidy, which allows for some COVID-19 impacted companies to qualify up to 75 per cent of their employees’ salaries, could be lifeline, Cohen said.
“It will, particularly for small businesses… the 75 per cent subsidy for wages is enormous incentive to keep people on,” she said. “That may help, if the business can stay open.”