The Beyond Recovery data dashboard presents up-to-date information on women’s economic standing in Canada in the aftermath of the COVID-19 economic shutdown. It features two sets of indicators, broken down by population groups, unpacking the national level statistics and identifying emerging economic trends—especially as they affect marginalized women in hard-hit sectors. Another set of tables tracking industry and occupational profiles will be added in 2024.
See Still in recovery: Assessing the pandemic’s impact on women for an analysis of the gender gap today using the CCPA’s Gender Gap Index to assess recent trends in economic security, health, educational attainment, leadership and personal security.
The big picture
The bigger picture is still one of deep inequality
The COVID-19 pandemic upended women’s economic gains in two short months, wiping out 35 years of progress. At the height of Canada’s economic shutdown, women were working 27 per cent fewer hours, in the aggregate, than in February 2020.
The employment situation started to rebound in the fall of 2020 with most working women recovering their previous rate of employment by the start of 2022—driven by gains among core-aged workers. The path to recovery was much more circuitous for young women and women over age 55 years.
This isn’t to say that all women workers have been caught up in the recovery–or that the employment gap with men has fully closed. Lower employment rates, fewer working hours per week, substantial labour market segregation and persistent glass ceilings mean that women are still paid considerably less than men.
And while poverty rates were driven lower by emergency supports during the pandemic they are climbing once more. Sky rocketing rents and grocery bills are hitting low-income households hard–especially those headed by women and facing high barriers to financial security.
High levels of immigration are pushing up employment rates among immigrant women
Immigrant women in Canada were hard hit during the initial COVID-19 economic shutdown, accounting for a disproportionate share of job losses. Their employment numbers have bounced back! The employment rate among women aged 15 to 64 years who immigrated to Canada in the last 10 years improved significantly between 2019 and 2022, increasing by over five percentage points, to 67.8 per cent. Higher rates of employment among this group pushed up the rate of employment among all immigrant women in this age group to 70.5 per cent, narrowing the gap with Canadian-born women (72.9 per cent).
While immigrant women have narrowed the employment gap with Canadian-born women since 2019, income has been a different story. One of the most disturbing findings is the very weak recovery in market income recorded by immigrant women, especially among those who had recently moved to Canada. In 2021, immigrant women, on average, earned $28,000, 88.9 per cent of the market incomes of Canadian-born women and 61.0 per cent of Canadian-born men. The wage gap was even higher for recent immigrants (less than five years), at three-quarters of Canadian-born women (74.9 per cent) and just half (51.4 per cent) of Canadian-born men.
Racialized women’s employment rate has rebounded–but it varies widely
Racialized women have shared in post-pandemic shutdown employment gains, but there remains a significant employment gap between racialized and non-racialized women in Canada. In 2022, seven in 10 (69.3 per cent) racialized women aged 15 to 64 years were engaged in the paid labour market compared to 74.6 per cent of non-racialized, non-Indigenous women. With the notable exception of Filipino women whose rate of employment exceeds that of non-racialized women, the employment gap is greater than five percentage points for most other groups.
The median market income of racialized women was $27,600 in 2021—87.9 per cent of the incomes of non-racialized women and 58.6 per cent of non-racialized men. This ranged from a high of $31,500 among Filipino and Latin American workers to a low of roughly $23,000 among Arab women.
There’s been a surge of employment among Indigenous women since 2019
Indigenous women aged 15 to 64 years experienced a steep drop in their employment rate between 2019 and 2020 (by 4.6 percentage points), rebounding in 2021, and then jumping by 4.9 percentage points in 2022 to 67.5 per cent. Over the three years, the number of Indigenous women in the paid labour market increased by 52,500, accounting for almost one-fifth (20.8 per cent) of total female employment gains, concentrated largely among young women and core-aged women.
After the labour market collapse in 2020, the 2021 surge in employment helped boost Indigenous women’s market income: they recouped the very steep 16.4 per cent income loss between 2019 and 2020—but there is still a large income gap with Indigenous men (68.4 per cent), non-Indigenous (88.6 per cent) and non-Indigenous men (60.6 per cent).
Women with disabilities
Employment income on the rise after pandemic shock helping to close the large earnings gap
Leading up to the pandemic, there was a steady rise in employment and earnings among women with disabilities. The pandemic hit women with disabilities hard, given their concentration in low-wage service jobs. Employment income dropped sharply in 2020 as compared to men with disabilities and workers without disabilities. Employment rebounded in 2021 but a significant gap remains with men and women without disabilities.
In 2021, disabled women reported $29,000 in earnings—84.3 per cent of the earnings of women without disabilities and 58.7 per cent of men without disabilities—a difference of more than $20,000.
The pandemic recession hit mothers hard–single mothers in particular
In the initial phase of the pandemic, large numbers of women left the labour market to support and care for family members, including overseeing virtual learning in provinces that experienced successive school closures. Between February and April 2020, 620,000 mothers with children 12 and under lost working hours, affecting 27 per cent of all mothers with young children who were working in February 2020.
Mothers’ employment rates started to rebound in 2021 for mothers in couple families with children 0 to 12 years, reaching 78.7 per cent in 2022, surpassing the pre-pandemic rate, and narrowing the gap with fathers (from 16.1 points in 2019 to 15.6 points in 2022).
At the same time employment among lone-parent mothers with children under 12 fell by 14.4 per cent in 2020 and by 5.2 per cent in 2021. The 2022 labour market helped to finally boost employment for this group, but levels of employment were still short roughly 40,000 of the 2019 benchmark.
Workers with low levels of education falling further behind in aftermath of pandemic
Women workers with lower levels of education were especially hard hit during the start of the pandemic as low-waged front-facing services absorbed the largest employment shock. The employment rate of those without a diploma or degree has been effectively flat for 20 years at a very low 45 per cent among women aged 25 to 64 years. When the pandemic hit, their employment levels dropped by 13.3 per cent between 2019 and 2020 and by 3.9 per cent in 2021 before recovering in 2022 by a modest 2.9 per cent. In 2022, 46.7 per cent of women with less than a high school education were engaged in paid employment. The respective figure for those with a single high school degree was 65.3 per cent.
Women's earnings and poverty
Gender wage gap persists as earnings rebound
The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted women’s earnings. The sharp rise in pandemic-related unemployment widened the gender wage gap between men and women in Canada, notably in Saskatchewan, British Columbia, and Alberta. Employment income began to rebound in 2021, reaching $37,300 among women and $51,600 among men aged 16 to 64 years, representing a wage gap of 72.3 per cent, a slightly smaller gap than in 2019.
Workers’ wages in Canada started to rebound in the spring of 2021. Over the next 21 months, women’s weekly wages rose by 6.3 per cent—not enough to keep up with rising inflation which increased by 9 per cent over this same period. The gap is particularly pronounced in several female-majority care occupations and low-wage sectors, further entrenching established pay disparities. For example, the wages of nurses increased by only 5.6% over roughly two years.
The booming labour market in 2022 opened up new opportunities for many low-waged women. Fewer women workers are now working for minimum or modest wages (less than $800 a week) and more women workers are employed at higher wages (greater than $800 a week) than before the pandemic. But, in 2022, women were still 1.7 times more likely to earn less than $500 per week compared to men—the same ratio as in 2019—and they were 0.6 times less likely to earn over $1,200 per week.
Emergency pandemic benefits played a central role protecting workers and their families impacted by recurring employment losses through the first waves of the pandemic, derailing what would have been a precipitous rise in poverty. As a result, Canada experienced a 23.1 per cent drop in poverty between 2019 and 2020—24.1 per cent among men and 22.5 per cent among women (as measured by the After-tax Low Income Measure).
In 2021, with the wind down of these supports, poverty rates predictably rebounded. Nationally, women’s poverty rates rose from 10.0 per cent in 2020 to 11.4 per cent in 2021. Among Indigenous people aged 16 years and older, the rate of poverty fell sharply from 21.0% in 2019 to 15.3% in 2020, bouncing back to 18.1% in 2021. Among people with disabilities, their rate of poverty fell from 18.1% to 14.7% back to 16.5% over the same period.
This publication 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. 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.
More publications from Beyond Recovery are available.
This project has been funded in part by Women and Gender Equality Canada.