Politics

Trudeau vows to tackle 'she-cession' after new report says pandemic has been worse for working women

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used the occasion of International Women's Day to promise today that his government's economic recovery plans will be crafted to help women bounce back from the shutdown as a newly published report explains how women have been hit hard by the pandemic.

Low-earning women were the ones most severely affected by this recession: report

Trudeau is promising that his economic recovery plan will be crafted to help women recover from the pandemic. (Protracts of Montreal)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau used the occasion of International Women's Day to promise today that his government's economic recovery plans will be crafted to help women bounce back from the shutdown as a newly published report explains how women have been hit hard by the pandemic.

"This crisis has created a she-cession and has threatened to roll back the hard-fought social and economic progress of all women," Trudeau said in a media statement Monday.

"To build a fairer and more equal Canada, we must ensure a feminist, intersectional recovery from this crisis."

According to a new report, employment among women remains about 5.3 per cent below where it sat in February 2020 — just before the first wave of COVID-19 — compared to a drop of about 3.7 per cent for men. 

Most of the shortfall is attributable to losses in sectors like food services and accommodations, where workers deal directly with the public and have been hit hard by lockdowns and restrictions.

The report published Monday by the Labour Market Information Council said employment for women in low-earning occupations is 14 per cent below pre-crisis levels, while their counterparts in high-earning jobs have fully recovered. 

The shortfall for low-earning men is 12 per cent. 

"Low-earning women were the most severely impacted in this recession of any other income group or any other gender, and to this day, they are the furthest away from recovery," said economist Liz Betsis, one of the authors on the LMIC report. 

"As we strive for a sustainable and equitable recovery, we really need to keep in mind low-income women." 

Task Force on Women in the Economy

The figures will be among many that a newly formed expert panel of women will deal with as it advises Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on the measures she'll need to take in her upcoming budget to pave the road to an economic recovery. 

The Task Force on Women in the Economy will also advise the federal government on actions to address gender imbalances exacerbated by COVID-19. It will be co-chaired by Freeland and Associate Minister of Finance Mona Fortier.

"Canada's future prosperity and competitiveness depend on the ability of women to participate equally and fully in our workforce," Freeland said in a statement earlier. The panel was officially launched Monday.

Since being named finance minister in August, Freeland has repeatedly spoken about a "feminist agenda," and has said a national childcare plan will be part of a stimulus package worth up to C$100 billion ($79 billion) over three years.

Decades of progress wiped away: CCPA

Trudeau also addressed child care in his International Women's Day statement, saying "access to affordable, quality child care will give our children a good start in life, help Canadians find and keep good jobs, and create a more resilient country and economy."

RBC economists Dawn Desjardins and Carrie Freestone warned in their report last week that child care alone is no solution if mothers don't have jobs to which they can return. 

Some of those jobs may never come back as they're threatened by automation, which has added another layer of vulnerability for low-wage women, said Behnoush Amery of the Labour Market Information Council.

The economic lockdowns wiped out two decades workforce gains for single mothers, said Katherine Scott, an economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. At the end of last year, single-parent mothers with children under six worked almost two-fifths fewer hours than they had pre-pandemic.

There has also been a threefold increase in the number of women considered long-term unemployed, a Royal Bank report said. That means 200,000 more women have been out of work for at least six months — and the longer they are unemployed, the less likely they are to go back to work.

Elizabeth Dhuey, an associate professor of economics at the University of Toronto, said training programs should be updated so that low-wage women from retail or food services can apply their skills to emerging or growing sectors with a bit of extra training.

"Not just throwing money randomly to all these normal players that are doing the same thing as before, but try to figure out who is actually looking at the data, using the data and providing programming," said Dhuey, also chair of the Canadian Economic Association's women economists committee.

Prime Minister Trudeau offered another idea Monday when he said the government should fund women entrepreneurs more than their male counterparts because women-run startups affect the greater good.

"We would be fools not to massively flip around the access to capital challenge," he said during a virtual event for women entrepreneurs.

With files from The Canadian Press and Reuters

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