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Low pay driving career changes among women workers

Bumpy Ride #7: Women workers are changing industries—and they're looking for better pay

November 28, 2022

3-minute read

This is part seven, the final of our Fall 2022 Bumpy Ride labour market series update. It presents up-to-date information on women’s economic security, unpacking national-level statistics and identifying emerging economic trends that impact women’s economic standing.

Quick takeaway

Female workers are seeking out better pay and working conditions. In September, 11.9 per cent of workers reported that they were planning to leave their job in the next year, including one in five (19.6 per cent) workers in the lowest-wage group. Changing careers is the top reason but low pay is another.

Some groups of female workers are moving up the earnings ladder

Some groups of workers were sheltered from the worst of the pandemic-related recession. Those in professional services, finance and administration, and information technology did not experience a significant interruption in their earnings. Indeed, workers in “non-vulnerable” sectors recovered their pandemic-related employment losses quite quickly and their numbers have continued to grow. Over the last two years, growth in high-paying employment has outpaced that in lower-paying and mid-paying industries and occupations, heralding a shift in the composition of Canada’s labour market.

Some groups of women have benefited from this growth, which is reflected in their higher rates of employment and higher earnings. Between September 2019 and September 2022, for example, women’s employment in professional services increased by 18.5 per cent, or close to 120,000 positions. Roughly 85,000 women took jobs in the public administration, notably with the federal government as it ramped up to deliver pandemic services, and another 77,000 women found work in finance and insurance.

The growing presence of women in these sectors has pushed up employment rates, particularly for women aged 25 to 54, and opened the door to higher earnings for thousands of women.

There was no post-recession surge in the rate of people changing jobs in Canada as was evident in the United States, but there was a pivot as unemployed workers sought new positions in growing—and often better paid—sectors of the economy. Employers at the time decried the presence of pandemic benefits as barrier to employment. But the evidence shows workers weren’t turning their backs on employment, they were leaving poorly paid, precarious work when other alternatives beckoned.

In 2022, the search for better employment opportunities continued. In September, Statistics Canada reported that 11.9 per cent of workers were planning to leave their job in the next year, including one in five (19.6 per cent) workers in the lowest-wage group. Changing careers is the top reason but low pay is another: 85 per cent of employees identify salary and benefits as their top consideration. Workplace health and safety is up there too (82 per cent) as COVID-19 continues to circulate.

The upshot is that we are seeing a shift in the composition of the labour market among men and women. As the figure below illustrates, a smaller number of workers are labouring for minimum or modest wages (less than $800 a week) and a larger number are employed at higher wages (greater than $800 a week). In September 2019, for example, almost half of all female employees aged 15 and older (49.5 per cent) and one-third of male employees (32.2 per cent) earned less than $800 per week. In September 2022, four in 10 women (39.9 per cent) and one-quarter of men (24.3 per cent) occupied this earnings bracket.

It is important to note that while the earnings distribution of workers is changing, the gender gap in employment income persists. In September 2022, women were still 1.8 times more likely to earn less than $500 per week compared to men and they were 0.6 times less likely to earn over $1,200 per week.

Men have surpassed women’s economic gains, capturing a larger share of employment growth in several high-paying fields, such as oil and gas, information technology, and professional services—sectors that pay, on average, considerably more than $1,200 per week. Finance and insurance and management of companies and enterprises—both male majority sectors—both recorded the largest year-over-year earnings growth between August 2021 and August 2022.

Efforts to improve the wages and working conditions of low-wage workers have never been more important as a potential recession looms.

About this update

Logo of Beyond Recovery: Toward a gender-just economy project

This Bumpy Ride Update series is part of a larger project, Beyond Recovery, which is working to support and advance a gender-just recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. The project’s goals are to document and analyze women’s experiences, with a particular focus on those of marginalized women in hard-hit sectors, and to provide evidence-based policy proposals to ensure those who are most impacted in this pandemic are front and centre in Canada’s recovery. The Fall 2022 update draws on the annual and monthly Labour Force Survey and other related sources of information, highlighting differences between women and men as well as between different groups of women. Considering differences in the experiences of women with intersecting identities is crucial to understanding the impact of the pandemic and efforts to craft a fair and inclusive recovery, attentive to the experiences and struggles of marginalized and under-represented groups.

See the first Labour Market Update, published in May: Katherine Scott, A Bumpy Ride: Tracking women’s economic recovery amid the pandemic. Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, May 31, 2022.

This project has been funded in part by Women and Gender Equality Canada.

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