According to Statistics Canada, unemployment in the Victoria Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) hit 11 per cent in June 2020. (Black Press Media File)

Greater Victoria records highest unemployment in post-war history with 11 per cent

Past peak was 7.8 per cent more than a decade ago, according to South Island Prosperity Partnership

Unemployment in Greater Victoria hit an historic high in June with 11 per cent according to a new report from Statistics Canada which also reveals that unemployment caused by COVID-19 has a distinct sociology.

According to the report, unemployment in Victoria Census Metropolitan Area (CMA) rose 0.9 per cent to 11 per cent in June, a local trend line running to broader trends as both the provincial and national unemployment dropped. British Columbia’s unemployment rate dropped 0.4 per cent to 13 per cent, while the national unemployment rate dropped by 1.4 per cent from a record-high of 13.7 per cent in May.

By way of context, Victoria’s CMA recorded an unemployment rate of 3.4 per cent in February, with the region consistently among the regions with the lowest unemployment rates anywhere in Canada.

“The employment losses resulting from the COVID-19 economic shutdown were unprecedented in their speed and depth,” reads the report. “In just two months, employment fell to 15.7 per cent below pre-COVID February levels.”

By way of historic background, the region’s highest unemployment rate before the current pandemic was 7.4 per cent during the 2008 financial crisis and the Great Recession that followed, according to the South Island Prosperity Partnership (SIPP).

(Looking back to the Great Depression in the last century, Rob Gillezeau, assistant professor at the University of Victoria, has since noted that Victoria’s unemployment rate was nearly double the current rate, according to the 1931 census, likely worse in 1932, with the proviso, that he lacks access to that data).

RELATED: COVID-19 pushes unemployment in Greater Victoria beyond 10 per cent

SIPP’s director of economic development, Dallas Gislason, appears especially concerned about the state of the local tourism industry, a key driver of the local economy.

“Of particular concern are the tourism-related indicators since our region has the third-most tourism-related jobs out of Canada’s metro-regions,” he said in a release. “This means we are likely in for a prolonged recession since some of our ‘driving industries will not be able to return to any version of normal until a vaccine or treatment is in place.”

The report from Statistics Canada also underscores that the pandemic has especially hit two sectors hard: accommodation and food services, as well as retail.

While jobs are bouncing backs in those sectors, employment in both industries have remained “well below” pre-COVID-19 February levels. By the week of June 14 to June 20, employment in accommodation and food services was 66.7 per cent of its February level with retail further along in its recovery as June employment hit 88.7 per cent of February levels.

Women, especially those working in low-wage jobs or looking after children during the shut-down, have found it especially hard to re-enter the labour force. Younger workers also continue to find the labour market stacked to their disadvantage.

“In March and April, a disproportionate share of job loss was felt by youth, women and low-paid workers,” the report notes. “[Labour Force Survey] results from May and June indicate that these same groups face a longer path to labour market recovery than others.”

Men, especially high-wage earners, and to a lesser degree, immigrants have found it easier to weather the economic effects to the pandemic, which continues to effect Canadians households. In June, more than one-quarter (28.3 per cent) of Canadians aged 15 to 69 reported receiving some kind of federal income assistance payment since March 15, and more 20 per cent of Canadian households reported having financial difficulties. This last figure marks a small improvement from May, when 22.5 per cent of households reported such difficulties.


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