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

West Shore Parks and Recreation facilities face a challenging future in terms of funding, due to reduced operations throughout the pandemic. (Black Press Media file photo)
West Shore Parks and Recreation faces challenging future

West Shore Parks and Recreation Society submits 2021 budget request to owner municipalities

Saskatoon resident liajah Pidskalny poses with his bike near the University of Victoria after putting on thousands of kilometres to raise awareness of the overdose and mental health crisis. (Courtesy Iliajah Pidskalny)
Saskatoon cyclist winds up mental health and overdose awareness ride in Victoria

Iliajah Pidskalny braves prairie winter conditions to get word out to communities

(Black Press Media file photo)
Saanich police seek suspect after woman nearly robbed while getting out of vehicle

Incident occurred before 7 a.m. Feb. 17 in parking lot off Cordova Bay Road

BC Ferries experienced heavy traffic on Feb. 27 following cancellations the day before due to strong winds and adverse weather. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries sailings fill up quickly after cancellations on Friday due to high winds

Waits expected on Swartz Bay-Tsawwassen route, Horseshoe Bay-Departure Bay route

Gabriel Swift, 23, is one of three Victoria filmmakers chosen to receive $20,000 Telus Storyhive grants to produce Local Heroes documentaries. (Courtesy of Gabriel Swift)
Three Victoria filmmakers producing ‘local heroes’ documentaries with $20,000 grants

Telus Storyhive providing $20,000 to 40 Western Canada productions

Abbotsford’s Kris Collins turned to TikTok out of boredom when the provincial COVID-19 lockdown began in March 2020. She now has over 23 million followers on the video app. Photo: Submitted
Internet famous: Abbotsford’s Kris Collins is a TikTok comedy queen

Collins has found surprise stardom alone with a phone

A Vancouver restaurant owner was found guilty of violating B.C.’s Human Rights Code by discriminating against customers on the basis of their race. (Pixabay)
Vancouver restaurant owner ordered to pay $4,000 to customers after racist remark

Referring to patrons as ‘you Arabs’ constitutes discrimination under B.C.’s Human Rights Code, ruling deems

Nanaimo children’s author and illustrator Lindsay Ford’s latest book is ‘Science Girl.’ (Photo courtesy Lindsay Ford)
B.C. children’s writer encourages girls to pursue the sciences in new book

Lindsay Ford is holding a virtual launch for latest book, ‘Science Girl’

Pig races at the 145th annual Chilliwack Fair on Aug. 12, 2017. Monday, March 1, 2021 is Pig Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Feb. 28 to March 6

Pig Day, Canadian Bacon Day and Grammar Day are all coming up this week

Staff from the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre, passersby, RCMP and Nanaimo Fire Rescue carried a sick 300-kilogram steller sea lion up the steep bluff at Invermere Beach in north Nanaimo in an attempt to save the animal’s life Thursday. (Photo courtesy Marine Mammal Rescue Centre)
300-kilogram sea lion muscled up from B.C. beach in rescue attempt

Animal dies despite efforts of Nanaimo marine mammal rescue team, emergency personnel and bystanders

Doctors and counsellors warn of an increase in panic attacks, anxiety, depression and suicide ideas between ages 10 to 14, in Campbell River. ( Black Press file photo)
Extended pandemic feeding the anxieties of B.C.’s youth

Parents not sure what to do, urged to reach out for help

Gina Adams as she works on her latest piece titled ‘Undying Love’. (Submitted photo)
‘Toothless’ the kitty inspires B.C. wood carver to break out the chainsaw

Inspired by plight of a toothless cat, Gina Adams offers proceeds from her artwork to help animals

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson presents bill to delay B.C.’s budget as late as April 30, and allow further spending before that, B.C. legislature, Dec. 8, 2020. (Hansard TV)
How big is B.C.’s COVID-19 deficit? We’ll find out April 20

More borrowing expected as pandemic enters second year

The first of 11 Dash 8 Q400 aircraft's have arrived in Abbotsford. Conair Group Inc. will soon transform them into firefighting airtankers. (Submitted)
Abbotsford’s Conair begins airtanker transformation

Aerial firefighting company creating Q400AT airtanker in advance of local forest fire season

Most Read