Changes in employment during the COVID-19 pandemic

Date: March 21, 2022

Author: Jason Robinson, Danielle Letang & Sampoorna Bhattacharya, Rural Data Analysts at ROI

ROI’s latest Focus On Rural Ontario fact sheet explores the impact of COVID-19 on rural and urban employment. This fact sheet compares employment trends during the pandemic to a pre-pandemic baseline of February 2020.

Using data from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey, this special series includes tables and charts showing changes in employment within the context of the periodic provincial shutdowns that occurred between March 2020 and December 2021.

How have employment trends changed across Ontario since the start of the pandemic?

The first provincial shutdown had the largest immediate impact on the construction, manufacturing, retail, and hospitality industries in both rural and urban areas. The lowest employment across all industries was observed in April 2020, with a 14.5% decrease for urban areas and an 8.9% decrease for rural areas. The periodic shutdowns had a severe and sustained impact on employment in the retail, accommodations and food services industries.

Overall, employment levels across all industries recovered to approximately 3.5% above pre-pandemic levels by December 2021 in both urban and rural areas. Employment numbers recovered earlier and more consistently in rural areas.

Females and younger people had higher unemployment rates during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unemployment for males and females was high after the first provincial shutdown. In rural areas, female unemployment rose again during the second shutdown period, reaching 10%. Male unemployment started to improve in June 2020, while female unemployment continued to increase until February 2021.

Young people had higher rates of unemployment in both urban and rural areas. This is probably due to business closures and capacity restrictions in the retail, accommodations and food services industries, which are more often staffed by people in younger age groups. People in the 15-24 age group had the highest level of unemployment in May 2020, with an urban peak of 34% and a rural peak of 25%.

In urban areas, unemployment levels for young people recovered gradually following May 2020, but remained higher than other age groups through January 2022. The recovery for young people in rural areas was more sudden, improving from 25% to 13% between May 2020 and June 2020. Unemployment levels for young people in rural areas fluctuated between 10-15% from June 2020 to May 2021.

For more information on COVID-19’s impacts in rural Ontario, check out ROI’s special issues of Focus On Rural Ontario in the Knowledge Centre.

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