Hamilton's low income and racialized neighbourhoods have higher COVID-19 rates: study

Hamilton neighbourhoods with more low-income residents and people of colour have higher rates of COVID-19 according to a new report from Hamilton's Social Planning and Research Council.

Women, part-time workers and youth hit hardest by COVID-19 unemployment

The rates of COVID-19 in areas with the most low-income and racialized residents is much higher than the rate in neighbourhoods with the fewest low-income residents and people of colour. (CBC/Radio-Canada)

Rates of COVID-19 are higher in Hamilton neighbourhoods with more low-income residents and people of colour, according to a new report from Hamilton's Social Planning and Research Council (SPRC).

The research also shows women, part-time workers and youth lost the most jobs in Hamilton during the pandemic.

SPRC used local COVID-19 data at the neighbourhood level and combined it with neighbourhood census data from the Ontario Marginalization Index, published by Public Health Ontario in 2016, to reveal the findings.

Neighbourhoods with the most low-income residents and people of colour have almost twice the rate of COVID-19 compared to neighbourhoods with the fewest low-income residents and people of colour, said Sara Mayo, SPRC's social planner and the lead of the research.

The neighbourhood average of COVID-19 in Hamilton is 136 cases per 100,000 people.

Hamilton's most diverse neighbourhoods had 196 cases per 100,000 people and the city's lowest-income neighbourhoods had 179 cases per 100,000 people, the study shows. 

Data from Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton shows that neighbourhoods with more people of colour and more low-income residents have higher rates of COVID-19. (Submitted by Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton)

The full report will be released on Monday.

The SPRC report is one of the first looks at who COVID-19 is affecting in Hamilton.

"We want to ensure we're understanding how the impacts are different and how COVID is magnifying existing inequalities," Mayo told CBC.

"In some ways, we weren't surprised with what we found. It was what we expected," Kim Martin, SPRC exective director, told CBC. 

Data from other cities, like Toronto and in places south of the border, have shown similar results. Hamilton Public Health has been working on releasing COVID-19 data specific to people of colour as early as September.

People of colour and low-income residents impacted

The Hamilton figures show that as the number of low-income residents and people of colour increase in a neighbourhood, so does the rate of COVID-19 in that area,

"I'm surprised the trend was that clear, we thought the difference might be smaller," said Mayo.

The report notes that while the trends were analyzed at the neighbourhood level, these trends are not about specific geographic areas of the city. Rather, they reflect the aggregate demographic and income characteristics of neighbourhoods across Hamilton.

"Ontario-wide data show the same trends, namely that low income and racialization status are associated with higher rates of COVD-19 cases, hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and mortality rates," reads the report.

The report explains that lower income residents and people of colour usually work unstable jobs with low wages or face discrimination.

"When residents are more likely to have low-paying frontline jobs where they can't work from home, or not have paid sick leave, leading to greater exposure, they are at higher risk of infection," it says.

Women, youth, part-time work affected by COVID-19

Mayo said job losses in Hamilton also affected women, youth and part-time workers the most.

In the Hamilton Census Metropolitan Area, which includes Burlington and Grimsby, women aged 15 to 24 saw a 16 per cent decrease in employment between February and July 2020. Part-time workers saw a 27 per cent decrease in the same period.

"These decreases are significant and demonstrate the precarious employment of these groups," reads the report.

Data from the SPRC shows women, youth and part-time workers were hit hardest during the pandemic's wave of unemployment. (Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton)

The city's unemployment rate is higher than it has been in at least the last 20 years, at over 12 per cent of the workforce, according to the report. Roughly 60,000 people lost their jobs between February and June.

Mayo added that while the research couldn't conclude that people of colour were heavily impacted by unemployment during the pandemic, she said her team believes that to be the case since people of colour generally make up much of the youth and part-time work force.

The data also shows almost 60,000 people lost their jobs between February and June in Hamilton. (Social Planning and Research Council of Hamilton)

Recommendations for COVID-19 recovery

Mayo said the most important takeaway is to start looking at ways to helping those who need it most recover physically, and economically from the pandemic. 

"We've been ignoring inequities in our city and our country for too long," she explained.

"We have to ramp up our efforts to say, 'This is unfair that there is such a disparity' ... everyone should be able to enjoy good health and we want everyone to have the same access to proper working conditions."

The report lists a number of recommendations. They include:

  • All employers should provide paid sick time for their workers and reform Employment Insurance (EI) to protect low-wage workers and gig economy workers.
  • Raise social assistance rates above the poverty line and increase minimum wage.
  • Provide universal public child care.
  • Extend rent freezes and eviction bans.
  • Extend emergency benefits for Ontario Works and the Ontario Disability Support Program past the end of July.
  • Create a stabilization fund for the non-profit sector to support housing, health care, job training, child care access, and mental health supports.


Bobby Hristova is a journalist with CBC Hamilton. He reports on all issues, but has a knack for stories that hold people accountable, stories that focus on social issues and investigative journalism. He previously worked for the National Post and CityNews in Toronto. You can contact him at bobby.hristova@cbc.ca.