Politics

Chris Hall: the pandemic recession is placing a new burden on women

This recession is quite different from the ones that came before it — because this time, women are as likely to lose their jobs as men.

Unlike previous recessions, this one is hitting the retail and services sectors the hardest

Nym Calvez, 35, worked as a housekeeper at a downtown Vancouver hotel — until the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike past recessions, the economic downturn arising from the crisis is taking a particularly heavy toll on industries that tend to employ women. (Radio-Canada/Maggie MacPherson)
Listen to the full episode48:36

The April employment figures released on Friday were every bit as staggering as the experts predicted. More than two million people lost their jobs last month because of COVID-19 — the largest monthly drop ever — after another million jobs were shed in March.

But those numbers give only a partial view of the devastation caused by the pandemic.

Unlike previous recessions, this downturn is hitting the retail and services sectors the hardest. Those are the sectors that rely heavily on women like Nym Calvez, who lost her job as a room attendant at a Vancouver hotel in late March.

"All of a sudden we [lost] our jobs and we don't know what the future holds," Calvez told CBC News. She and two other women whose lives, and livelihoods, have been overturned by this pandemic took part in an interview airing Saturday on CBC's The House.

Calvez is from the Philippines. Like many who have come to Canada from that country, she sends money back to her family every month. Now she can't afford to — and may not be able to for many months to come.

The House hears from three women who lost their jobs and face uncertain futures due to the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. 8:49

"Especially in the hotel industry, it's going to take us a long time before we can go back to normal," Calvez said. "I don't even know if we will be able to go back to normal."

Denise Yuile was laid off from her job as a server at a restaurant in Vancouver's airport; she's worked there for 18 years.  She said she isn't sure whether her job will still be there for her when the pandemic restrictions are lifted.

In the meantime, she's tending to her mother, who has significant health issues.

"I'm trying to get home care for her. I'm taking care, literally, of ... every need she has, day to day, while trying to navigate the medical system ... when everything is closed down," she told The House.

An equal-opportunity crisis

Their stories aren't unique. But what's different about this recession is that women are now as likely to lose their jobs as men.

Statistics Canada reported the pace of employment losses was above average for employees earning less than two-thirds of the 2019 median hourly wage of $24.04, and for those who are paid by the hour.

"This is consistent with the declines observed in accommodation and food services, and wholesale and retail trade, which generally have a higher proportion of workers with these characteristics," the agency said in its report.

Women still narrowly outnumber men among those who have lost jobs since February, and some economists noted that women with pre-school-aged children experienced the biggest drop in working hours as a result of the pandemic lockdowns.

The prime minister was asked Friday at his daily news conference about the challenges facing women in the workforce.

"Women, particularly ... have been extremely impacted by this ... We have moved forward on supports for them, particularly more emergency supports for women who are facing challenges of domestic violence," he said.

"But at the same time, we know we have to do more. The importance of child care has been yet again emphasized ... there needs to be more and secure child care spaces for people to get back in the work force."

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke with reporters on Friday. 1:47

Laura Forbes is an esthetician who shut down her boutique in Ottawa last month. She's collecting the monthly emergency benefit, but doesn't qualify for commercial rent assistance because her landlord doesn't meet the eligibility criteria.

That just adds to the pressure she's already feeling to recover lost income after being shut down during her busiest time of the year — while still trying to spend as much time as possible with her three-year-old son.

"My kid is going to go back to daycare. I'm trying to sock away money so that I can hopefully hire someone to pick him up from daycare because my eight-hour days are now going to turn into 10 to 12 hours a day ... if that's any time soon," she said.

That uncertainty about the future weighs heavily on Denise Yuile, too.

"Taking care of my mom has really opened my eyes about what's needed when you get to a certain age. I'm already in my middle 50s and just the thought of starting over is difficult to even wrap my head around," she said, before pausing to collect her thoughts.

"It's just overwhelming, with everything that's going on. I'm most concerned about having my job, being able to take care of my mom."

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