Cheyanne Baker, a working-class woman featured in a photography project. (Photo by Tina Tang)

Cheyanne Baker, a working-class woman featured in a photography project. (Photo by Tina Tang)

Canada’s women, youth bear the brunt of January job losses as unemployment rate hits 9.4%

Widespread lockdowns and school closures erased 212,800 jobs in January

Canada’s labour market saw months of gains wiped out in a matter of weeks as widespread lockdowns and school closures erased 212,800 jobs in January, hitting mothers and youth particularly hard.

The monthly job declines were the worst seen since last April, sending the unemployment rate up 0.6 percentage points to 9.4 per cent, the highest rate since August.

The unemployment rate would have been 12 per cent in January had Statistics Canada included in its calculations Canadians who wanted to work but didn’t search for a job.

Losses in January marked a second straight month that the labour market contracted after 63,000 positions disappeared in December to break a streak of monthly gains that began in May 2020.

After clawing back from an unprecedented drop of three million jobs over March and April, the country plunged backwards and is now short 858,300 jobs, or 4.5 per cent, of employment levels from last February before the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

January’s losses were concentrated in Ontario and Quebec where lockdowns and restrictions closed businesses and schools to rein in rising COVID-19 case counts.

Steep declines in part-time work, particularly among teenagers, and in service-industry jobs, including retail, overshadowed small upticks in full-time workers and in goods-producing sectors.

Brendon Bernard, an economist with job-posting website Indeed, said retail could quickly rebound as it did at the start of last summer if the pandemic is brought under control.

“Hopefully, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel in that regard,” he said, referring to vaccines, “and really that’s the main reason for optimism going forward.”

Employment fell faster for core-aged women than men and was particularly acute for mothers with elementary-aged children. With schools closed and students learning remotely, parents across the country saw the largest monthly jobs decline since last April.

RELATED: Canada’s unemployment rate rose in January to highest level since August

Since last year, women have dropped out of the labour force faster than men to take care of their children, on top of being over-represented in industries targeted by increased restrictions, said Kaylie Tiessen, an economist and policy analyst for Unifor.

Even as their children have gone back to school with reopenings in parts of Ontario, Tiessen said women, youth and racialized workers have a cloud of uncertainty of when they may return to work because of lingering restrictions.

“There’s this double whammy of the restrictions have to lift in order for us to be able to even begin to go back (to work),” she said, “and after the restrictions lift is when we’ll know more about who’s going back and where.”

The challenge facing governments is how to reshape aid so workers have a springboard back into the workforce and possibly in new jobs, said Mikal Skuterud, a labour market expert from the University of Waterloo.

“A lot of those jobs in retail, and food and accommodation are not coming back,” Skuterud said. “We’re certainly not going back to where we would have been…if the pandemic had never happened.”

The Liberals’ upcoming budget, and a promise to spend up to $100 billion over three years on stimulus measures, may yield some answers about how to unwind blanket programs businesses and families have come to rely on.

Robert Asselin, senior vice-president at the Business Council of Canada, said the budget should target support to help Canadians find new work and allow them to be more productive.

Asselin, a former budget adviser to the Trudeau Liberals, pointed to work by the Biden administration to focus spending on research and development as well as infrastructure to help the American economy recover.

“The government says it’s working on it for the budget, but if (the budget) is just focused on more money for consumption, I think it will miss the mark.”

In the short-term, governments are facing calls to find new ways to manage the pandemic. The country “simply cannot afford to be in a holding pattern until vaccines arrive,” said Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

RELATED: Canada’s economy likely suffered its worst year on record, shrank by 5%: StatsCan

Conservative finance critic Pierre Poilievre said the Liberals should quickly roll out more rapid tests for provinces to use as business groups have asked.

“We don’t know why Trudeau has been so slow in approving rapid tests, but certainly our jobs and economy have suffered as a result of his delays,” he said.

Economists noted hiccups in vaccination efforts and more contagious variants of COVID-19 may mean restrictions remain for longer and further delay a recovery. Bloc Quebecois Leader Yves-Francois Blanchet said that drags down confidence among businesses and workers.

“Restoring confidence depends on the ability of this government to get the vaccines delivered,” he said.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau sought do to that Friday, talking about his confidence in delivery schedules despite short-term hiccups. He also said he is strongly encouraging provinces to use rapid tests and pointed to existing aid programs when asked what more the government could do for workers.

“We’re not at the end yet,” he said outside his Ottawa residence. “We know we’re going to have to continue to hang in there.”

– With files from Maan Alhmidi and Mike Blanchfield in Ottawa

READ MORE: Canadian economy lost 63,000 jobs in Dec., first decline since April

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A health worker holds a vial of AstraZeneca vaccine to be administered to members of the police at a COVID-19 vaccination center in Mainz, Germany, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Andreas Arnold/dpa via AP)
43 new COVID-19 cases in Interior Health

368 cases in the region remain active

A member of the Avalanche Canada South Rockies field team gathers important snowpack data that is used to produce daily avalanche forecasts for the region. Photo by Jennifer Coulter.
Warming temperatures increase avalanche risk heading into the weekend

Warm temperatures impact conditions, human behaviour

Phase four of the Kicking Horse Canyon project will twin the winding stretch of the Trans-Canada Highway just east of Golden. (file photo)
Trans-Canada Highway reduced to one lane east of Golden

It’s the first of the Kicking Horse Canyon Phase 4 closures which will ramp up in the coming weeks

A nurse performs a test on a patient at a drive-in COVID-19 clinic in Montreal, on Wednesday, October 21, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Interior Health reports 16 new COVID-19 cases

423 cases remain active in the region

Vaccines are expected to become more widely available as the rollout speeds up in B.C. Olivia Sullivan/Sound Publishing
Sleeves up Golden – vaccine rollout details released

More details about the provincial rollout were released yesterday

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

A protest has been planned for March 5, 2020 over Penticton council’s decision to reject an application from BC Housing to keep an emergency winter shelter open over a year longer than originally planned. (Jesse Day - Western News)
‘Bring your tent’: Protest planned in Penticton’s Gyro Park over winter shelter closure

Protesters plan to show council ‘what the result of their decision will look like’

Although B.C. has not made masks mandatory in public indoor spaces, some business owners are requiring all customers to wear them before entering their store. (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
EDITORIAL: Heightened tension over face masks

Incidents of anger and conflicts over mandated masks happening too frequently

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki responded to BC Housing minster David Eby’s remarks that the city has put themselves at risk of creating a tent city Wednesday, March 3, 2020. (Western News file photo)
Penticton mayor calls out BC Housing minister for ‘irresponsible fear-mongering’

Council recently rejected BC Housing’s request to keep a winter shelter open longer than first planned

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

BC Housing minister David Eby is concerned that Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter will result in a “tent city” similar to this one in Everett, Wa. (Olivia Vanni / Black Press file)
‘Disappointed and baffled’ B.C. housing minister warns of tent city in Penticton

Penticton council’s decision to close a local homeless shelter could create tent city, says David Eby

Most Read