Pandemic puts women’s employment on ‘troubling trajectory,’ warns RBC

Restrictions on businesses imposed by a second surge of COVID-19 are likely to even far-reaching impacts on women in the workforce, according to a new RBC report

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While national employment levels have stabilized since outset of the pandemic last spring, women continue to be on the losing side of those gains.

A Thursday report (November 19) from economists at RBC concludes that family responsibilities that women typically shoulder have put that demographic on a “divergent and troubling trajectory.”

Between February and October, nearly 68,000 men joined the labour force while 20,600 women departed.

"Indeed, the number of women who are out of the labour force has increased 2.8% since February," write report authors and RBC economists Dawn Desjardins and Carrie Freestone, referring to those who lost their jobs, are not temporarily laid off and are not looking for work.

“When men lost their jobs, the majority actively sought out employment (meaning that they were considered `unemployed’). Meanwhile, a sizeable portion of women chose not to (they were considered `out of the labour force’).”

One of the driving factors behind this divergence is the categories of jobs most affected by the pandemic.

The COVID-19 crisis has so far taken considerable aim at the retail, and food and accommodation sectors — industries “Canadian women were more likely to work in,” according to the report.

For food and accommodation, 22.5% of the female share of the industry had to bear job losses from February to October compared with 17.6% of men.

In retail, the ratio was 10.8% women to 9.8% men.

And out of 48,000 jobs lost last month in accommodation and food services, the report found about 80% of those workers were women.

“In fact, women account for nearly twice the share of the decline in labour force participation in this industry as males. Fears of a second surge likely factored heavily in their decision to remain out of the labour force,” the authors write.

“Any developments that prolong the struggles of certain industries and keep more children at home are likely to delay women’s return to the labour force. That delay could have far-reaching implications for narrowing the gender wage gap and for facilitating the ability of women to acquire the skills they will need in an economy in the midst of significant transition.”