The impact of COVID-19 on rural employment up to August, 2020

Date: September 8, 2020

Author: Ray D. Bollman

Governments forced the closure of many businesses with large impacts on employment in both rural and urban areas and have since relaxed restrictions.

A special issue of “Focus on Rural Ontario” entitled COVID-19 Impact on Rural Employment: Ontario in the Canadian context up to August 2020 highlights the impact on rural Ontario with a comparison to the impact on rural employment in other provinces. This special issue is a follow-up to earlier special issues with data on employment in April, May, June and July, 2020.

In Ontario from July to August, 2020, rural employment increased by 1.5% compared to a 2.1% increase in urban areas. By this measure, rural labour markets were closing the COVID-19 employment gap at a (slightly) slower pace, compared to the pace of employment growth in urban labour markets.

In this report, we use the same month in the previous year (i.e., in 2019) to calculate the size of the COVID-19 employment impact (or employment gap). In August, the rural employment gap (-0.6%) was less than the COVID-19 impact in urban areas (-6.3%). The rural gap of -0.6% is less than one-third the Canada-level gap of -7.7% and much less than the rural gap in Alberta (-20.5%) and in rural Quebec (-13.3%).

Importantly, during the COVID-19 months of March to August, 2020, the rural employment gap in Ontario has been smaller than the urban employment gap. This may be compared to the Canada-level where the rural employment gap has been larger (in most months) than the urban employment gap.

Rural sectors with larger employment gaps include forest, fishing, mining, oil and gas (-79%), information, culture and recreation (-22%), public administration (-12%) and transportation and warehousing sector (-12%). At the other end of the scale, employment in rural construction in each month from March to August, 2020 has been at least 11% above the level of employment in the same month in 2019.

The gap for both males and females in both urban and rural areas has been closing over the March to August period (except for a small widening of the gap for males in July). However, in any given month, the gap for females has been larger than the gap for males in each of urban and rural areas. Thus, a “she-cession” has been experienced in both urban and rural areas in Ontario but different age cohorts among female workers show great contrasts with 25-44 year old women having high, positive levels of employment year over year compared to younger and older age cohorts. 

Canada-level charts for rural and small town areas (outside centres of 10,000 or more) are available as:

Bollman 2020 September 6 Rural and small town employment during the COVID-19 era to August, 2020

These charts are an up-date of earlier bundles of charts for employment in April, May, June and July, 2020.