COVID-19 impact on rural employment in Ontario to July 2021

Date: September 13, 2021

Author: Alex Petric—Rural Data Analyst at ROI

ROI’s latest Focus On Rural Ontario fact sheet explores the COVID-19 impact on rural employment up to July 2021. This compares COVID-19’s ongoing impact on rural Ontario with the impacts in urban Ontario and in other provinces.

The special series of Focus on Rural Ontario on COVID-19 includes tables and charts showing the economic impacts of the pandemic based on employment statistics. This update uses data collected by Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey during the week of July 11th to 17th, 2021. As the data show, many sectors are on the road to recovery, but some are continuing to be affected.

Factsheet Highlights


In July 2021, rural employment in Ontario was estimated to be 3.0% lower than the recent historical average. This was the first time in 8 months that urban Ontario had a smaller employment gap (-2.0%) than rural Ontario. This may indicate the impact of vaccines and lighter health regulations in urban Ontario.

Notably, rural Ontario reported employment numbers slightly above the historical average in March 2021. However, employment gaps have returned since then.

Based on percent gaps, Ontario’s rural employment gap of -3.0% ranks 8th among provinces. Only Newfoundland & Labrador (+0.9%) and Nova Scotia (-2.8%) had smaller employment gaps.

Ontario’s rural job gap represents an estimated gap of -19 thousand workers. This ranks third compared to the job gaps in rural Quebec (-37 thousand) and rural Alberta (-22 thousand).

In rural Ontario, different sectors reported different employment gaps. The largest gap by number employed were in the retail and wholesale trade sector (-12 thousand workers), the information, culture, and recreation sector (-9 thousand), and the other (personal) services sector (-8 thousand workers).

Some sectors have even reported employment above the historical average in rural Ontario. This occurred in the utilities sector (+32% employment), the finance, insurance, real estate, and leasing sector (+31%), and the professional, scientific, and technical services sector (+26%). One potential cause of these increases is migration away from cities due to perceptions that COVID-19 spreads more easily in urban areas.

While females have experienced lower employment rates than males in rural areas for much of the pandemic, both sexes had returned to expected employment levels in March and April 2021. However, gaps have reappeared for both males and females since then, and females reported a larger gap (-3.7%) than males (-2.3%) in July 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.