As we come into the Easter Weekend, it’s almost hard to believe that we’ve been into this pandemic for close to a month now. For those infected, we’ve seen the number of cases of Covid-19 grow every day. For students, most haven’t been in school for going on their fourth week. For fortunate workers, it’s been four weeks of working from home. And for the unfortunate ones, it’s been weeks since their layoffs hit, or hours were reduced. It’s been a sobering time, something that the vast majority of us alive have never faced.
The facts have been striking and as the days have gone on, we’ve gotten a better idea of the growing scope of the crisis that we’re facing regarding public health, and how it’s affecting all aspects of everyone’s lives. But now we’re reaching the point of this crisis where a lot of the usual statistical measures that governments do on an ongoing basis are starting to capture the effect of what’s happening out there. With that in mind, today Statistic Canada released their monthly jobs figures for March, a report that the Prime Minister told us yesterday that we’d need to gird ourselves for. That was sage advice, because the numbers were stunning:
Wow! Over 1 million jobs lost and the unemployment rate rising to 7.8%. Those are the worst month over month changes that Canada has ever seen since the Great Depression and the highest unemployment rate we’ve seen since 1976. Literally, these are things that the majority of Canadians alive today have never experienced. But when you dive a bit deeper into the Stats Can release, there are other numbers that leap out at you. Of those people who were employed, the number who did not work any hours increased by 1.3 million, while the number who worked less than half of their usual hours increased by 800,000. That brings the total of Canadians who were affected by either job loss or reduced hours to 3.1 million. 3.1 million people folks. That’s around 10% of our population, and that’s happened in less than a month.
When you break that out by province, you see that employment fell in all provinces, with Ontario losing 403,000 jobs, Quebec 264,000 jobs , British Columbia 132,000 jobs and Alberta 117,000 jobs. Another stat that jumped out at me was the effect on youth, a group that came into this crisis with an already high level of unemployment or underemployment. For youth between 15 to 24, employment decreased by 392,500 jobs in March, the fastest rate of decline across the age groups Stats Can measures. That decrease brought the employment rate for youth to 49.1%, the lowest on record using comparable data beginning in 1976. Given that youth are also more likely than the rest of the population to work in the service sector, that exposes them even more. And even for those who have kept their jobs so far, approximately 20% of employed youth lost all or the majority of their usual hours. I could go on, but the report speaks for itself and is just a taste of what’s to come. That also wasn’t the only release today, as we saw more figures come out to help put everything into greater perspective:
That figure from the Parliamentary Budget Officer is not shocking, given everything that’s happening, nor does it frankly matter as much as it would in the past. Government needs to spend in this moment, so it will, and we’ll have to deal with the deficit figures at another time, once we are clear of this crisis and well into the recovery phase, whether if that is months or a couple years from now. And of course the steep drop in the price of oil hurts that too, making it all the worse. But still, the number is striking on its face, because it still is the biggest budget deficit in Canadian history, and we’re just at the start of this.
The other figure there that gives a good light into where things are going is the number of people who have applied for the Canadian Emergency Relief Benefit (CERB). Applications opened just on Monday and as of this morning, over 5 million Canadians have applied. Think about that folks; that’s closing in on 15% of all Canadians applying for the benefit for people not covered by Employment Insurance (EI). On top of that figure, you can add everyone who’s applied for EI during the crisis and those figures are going to balloon by probably a few million more. By then, we’re talking about over 20% of all Canadians, and we’re just ending the first full week of April.
All this is to say that while todays employment numbers are shocking on their face and sobering to say the least, it seems that they will pale in comparison to what will come in the next month or so. That should also help to focus the minds of our politicians as they respond to this crisis. These are not normal times and there is no partisan blame to lay for us ending up here, as it was been events totally beyond the control of Canadian governments and leaders that brought us here. But how we do going forward will lay on their shoulders. To date, we’ve seen a good, unified response from most governments at all levels, despite the strains and pressures of the moment. For them, I hope that these figures released today will help them keep that focus, as the scope of this generational crisis grows and continues to come into greater focus. Our futures depend on it, so I pray that they do.