NORD: Lockdown scars are showing on Canadians

A closed Starbucks coffee shop on Queen St. W., at Ossington Ave., in Toronto, Ont. is pictured on Tuesday March 9, 2021.

On Friday Statistics Canada released the latest employment numbers. They weren’t good. But this shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone.

Friday’s numbers showed a drop of 207,000 jobs and nearly half a million Canadians who are now unemployed long-term as our labour market yo-yos between lockdowns and partial re-openings.

Some parts of the economy are particularly hard hit, including retail, trade, culture and recreation, and personal services. The accommodation and food services sector alone accounted for 59,000 jobs lost in April. According to the StatsCan data, jobs in restaurants and hotels are still down by 30% compared to pre-COVID times and this group accounts for more than two-thirds of the overall lasting job losses caused by COVID-19. The plight of other hard hit sectors, such as travel, tourism, and aviation are well documented.

We’ve become de-sensitized to the long-term impact each backtrack in employment truly has on Canadians because we’ve seen the economy partially rebound each time. But the rebounds we have seen are different than a truly sustainable recovery.

Our collective focus is currently on the light at the end of the vaccine tunnel – which is genuinely hopeful – but today we risk losing sight of the continued turbulence in the labour market and what that means for the Canadians bearing the brunt of it.

The blunt truth of our economic reality is we aren’t all in this together. With the so-called “K-shape” recovery taking place, those on the bottom continue to face business restrictions, lockdowns, and lost jobs. Targeted support for those most impacted must be in place into 2022.

The recent lockdowns will mean more permanent business closures. The job prospects for displaced workers grow slimmer with every month in lockdown as more businesses throw in the towel. Canada’s entrepreneurs are tapped out and the longer restrictions continue, the worse the situation will become.

At the same time, the third wave is also wreaking particular havoc on women and young Canadians. With school closures and summer break fast approaching, juggling childcare and work responsibilities will once more become a logistical and mental health burden that may very well lead to even more primary care givers, the majority of whom are women, involuntarily leaving the workforce. Students and young Canadians looking for summer and entry level jobs will also continue to struggle.

Moving forward, restrictions must be fact-based. We must utilize every tool in our toolbox to keep Canadians safe and healthy – including aiding vaccine rollout, rapid screening programs, and continued best practices on distancing and PPE.

Canadians also need a plan for what happens next.

Other countries are announcing their reopening plans now because they understand businesses need lead time to prepare, especially in the travel sector. Yet Canada’s strategy remains a mystery.

The success or failure of our recovery will depend on what we do and how we plan now. The better we plan today, the more efficiently businesses can implement new procedures when the time comes, and the faster our recovery will be. But Canadians are still waiting.

In the absence of a cohesive plan to help businesses jump-start the economy, the toll of this third lockdown is shining a light on the chasm between our temporary rebounds and durable, long-term recovery. The scars are showing in the labour market data – and on Canadians.

— Leah Nord is Senior Director of Workforce Strategies and Inclusive Growth at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.

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