By the Numbers: Women’s labour force participation heavily impacted by COVID-19

Toronto – August 19, 2020 – A new report from RBC Economics finds that the COVID-19 pandemic has not only brought about job losses that surpass those of any other recession – it has also dealt an unprecedented blow to working women.

The report, which interprets data gathered by Statistics Canada, reveals that the coronavirus pandemic cut women’s participation in the labour force down from a near-historic high to its lowest level in more than three decades, with 1.5 million women losing their jobs in the first two months of the pandemic and its corresponding recession.

In addition to experiencing massive job losses in positions that will not be easily recovered, the report says, women have also taken on the bulk of childcare responsibilities during COVID-19, as many schools and daycares remain closed across the country.

The report further finds that nearly half of newly unemployed women who lost their jobs between February and May were terminated and did not seek work after their dismissal, which puts them at higher risk of wage penalties and being out of the workforce long-term.

As the economy begins to rebound from the coronavirus pandemic, the report shows that women’s employment is recovering slower than men’s, as women accounted for roughly 45 percent of the decline in hours worked during the downturn, but are only projected to account for 35 percent of hours gained in the recovery.

Based on these grim findings, the report concludes that policies addressing childcare, including but not limited to financial supports and flexible work arrangements, will be essential to encouraging women to return to the workforce throughout the COVID-19 recovery. It notes that women participating in the labour market equally with men would provide a boost of $100 billion per year in economic output, and that a failure to support women returning to work would have detrimental impacts on the Canadian economy.

To read the full report, entitled “Pandemic Threatens Decades of Women’s Labour Force Gains,” click here.