Indigenous Winnipeggers, visible minorities, people with disabilities hit harder by pandemic: city economist

A report to Winnipeg city council says the pandemic lockdown has affected employment and economic activity, but some sectors have been hit harder than others.

City of Winnipeg economist sees ramifications of pandemic reverberating years into future

A few people sit scattered around The Forks Market in March, before the space was temporarily shut down because of COVID-19. The pandemic has created uncertainty that may linger and affects business confidence, says the City of Winnipeg's economist. (Trevor Brine/CBC)

The financial effect of the COVID-19 pandemic could be felt for years to come, says the City of Winnipeg's economist — and it hasn't hit all people in the city equally.

Tyler Markowsky shared those conclusions with councillors Thursday as part of a presentation to the city's innovation and economic development committee on the effects of the health crisis on Winnipeg's economy.

Backed by data from Statistics Canada, the Chambers of Commerce, the Conference Board of Canada and other sources, Markowsky provided some specific impacts of the lockdown that began last March.

Overall, the unemployment rate in the Winnipeg metropolitan area stood at 11.2 per cent in July, an increase of 5.8 per cent over the same time last year, Markowsky said.

The socio-economic impact of the pandemic has affected Indigenous people, visible minorities and people with disabilities at higher rate than other demographics, he said.

The employment rate for men is recovering faster than women.

'The bottom line is that the pandemic is uncertain,' says City of Winnipeg economist Tyler Markowsky. (Gary Solilak/CBC )

People from the city's Filipino and West Asian populations experienced higher job loss and a greater reduction in hours than white residents at the height of the lockdown.

Many people in those groups work in the retail, restaurant and hospitality sectors — those hit hardest hit by the pandemic restrictions.

Winnipeg, which in part counts on immigration to increase its population, is also seeing a decline in population growth in 2020, with borders closed and the system that administers immigration slowed by the pandemic.

Markowsky's figures came with the caution that there is a lag in the availability of data, and limitations in terms of sample size that present challenges to economists and statisticians when using some of the data. 

Uncertainty affects business confidence

Though there is a recovery underway, Markowsky says many business owners and operators are still unsure of the future.

"I think there is a lot of uncertainty right now and [that] undermines business confidence," Markowsky told councillors on the committee.

"The bottom line is that the pandemic is uncertain. It's uncertain how long the pandemic will play out. It is uncertain when we will see a vaccine," he later told CBC News in an interview.

"And secondarily, it's uncertain how governments, people and and businesses will react under those conditions."

Economic development chair Coun. Jeff Browaty acknowledges it could be some time before a return to normal. in the meantime, some businesses are struggling to make rents and payrolls, he says. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

While some of the impacts of the pandemic weren't a complete surprise to committee chair Jeff Browaty, they did underline concerns the North Kildonan councillor is hearing from business owners in his ward.

"Who knows how long until we come back to some level of normal?" Browaty said.

The uncertainty for some business owners has a knock-on effect for the city of Winnipeg.

"What's going to happen to commercial rents, for example, if all of a sudden there's a huge amount of vacancy … in retail and office space?" Browaty said.

"What is it going to do to our [tax] assessment roll if all of a sudden the value of these commercial properties goes down?"

A decline in revenue from business taxes could put pressure on residential properties in terms of property values and taxes, Browaty said.

"There's certainly challenges and unknowns going forward."