The historically high number of women in the country’s labour force is still below where it might have been if COVID-19 had never occurred, says a new report highlighting areas of concern for policymakers.
The report from the Labour Market Information Council estimated that female employment is almost one per cent lower than where it could have been if the global pandemic hadn’t altered the trajectory of the economy.
For men, employment levels are about 0.5 per cent below what they may have been had the labour market grown along its historical average over the preceding decade.
The report pointed to these figures, among others, to suggest the jobs rebound for women may be slightly weaker than the headline numbers suggest.
February’s labour market report from Statistics Canada showed that female employment was up about 178,000 jobs, or two per cent above levels recorded in February 2020.
For men, the jobs figure was slightly higher at 192,000, or about 1.9 per cent above pre-pandemic levels recorded in the same month two years earlier.
The job gains for women have been largely concentrated among middle- and high-income occupations, with a slower increase seen in lower-paying jobs.
Behnoush Amery, a senior economist with the council, said some women may have moved from largely part-time work to full-time employment and better pay, but many low-wage women workers could have left the labour force altogether.
The recovery for young workers has been slower than for those in the core working age of 25 to 54, Amery said. That could mean a decline in long-term earnings and opportunities if young female workers miss out on chances to gain job experience and develop their skills.
The rebound has also been slow for older female workers, some of whom may have opted for early retirement.
Amery said there could be short- and long-term economic impacts absent targeted help to two different generations of workers.
“Those groups still need support for a recovery and, more importantly, a sustainable recovery,” she said.
“If today’s youth, specifically young women, are missing out on the remarkable labour market recovery, they are missing opportunity to gain work experiences and develop the skills they will need for later career development.”
The jobs report also showed that the share of core-age women with a job reached an all-time high last month, while for men the rate hit its highest level since 1989.
Participation rates were similarly high. However, Amery said the participation rate for mothers still lags behind fathers and that points to long-running systemic issues and cultural expectations around childcare responsibilities.
—Jordan Press, The Canadian Press