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Low-wage workers are most exposed to spiralling costs

Bumpy Ride #3: Fall 2022 labour force data shows that pandemic-vulnerable sectors still have not recovered from COVID-19.

November 18, 2022

2-minute read

This is part three 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. More updates to come in the weeks ahead.

Quick takeaway:

In September, women’s employment in food and accommodation and other services was still below February 2020 levels, by 11.9 per cent and 13.5 per cent, respectively. In total, women have accounted for 88 per cent of vulnerable-sector losses, including 66 per cent of losses in food and accommodation and 73 per cent of losses in other services over this period.

Pandemic-vulnerable sectors haven’t recovered

Workers in pandemic-vulnerable sectors have truly been on a bumpy ride these past two years. By the end of 2021, total employment (both men and women) in vulnerable sectors had still not recovered to pre-pandemic levels. 2022 was a better year, but employment started to fall in July.

In September, women’s employment in food and accommodation and other services (notably in personal and laundry services) was still below February 2020 levels, by 11.9 per cent and 13.5 per cent, respectively. The comparable figures for male workers were 7.8 per cent and 5.5 per cent. In total, women accounted for 88 per cent of vulnerable-sector losses, including 66 per cent of losses in food and accommodation and 73 per cent of losses in other services over this period.

The decline in personal service employment among women highlights the continuing struggles of self-employed female workers, particularly those working on their own, with no paid help, as is the case for the large majority of self-employed female workers.

In September 2022, levels of self-employment among women were still 10.9 per cent below those in February 2020, representing a loss of roughly 119,000 of this group of business owners and freelancers. This is part of a larger, perhaps permanent, shift away from self-employment toward working with other private sector, non-profit, or public employers.

The drop in the number of self-employed workers and the continuing struggles of pandemic-vulnerable industries are two key trends undermining women’s economic security at the current moment. These sectors, along with the retail sector and business, building and support services (e.g., office administration, security and cleaning) continue to employ a majority of Canada’s low-wage labour force, a group of workers more likely to be female and/or from a historically marginalized group.

In 2021, over one-quarter of all female workers (26.6 per cent) worked for less than two-thirds of the median income—at a rate of roughly $17 an hour or less—compared to 19 per cent of men. These workers—along with people reliant on social assistance—are among those most exposed to the current affordability crisis and risks attached to a potential recession ahead.

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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