Jobs remain elusive for young women amid COVID-19 second wave

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By: Alastair Sharp, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

In bars, restaurants and retail stores across the country, young women typically feature heavily among the workers who serve customers. With COVID-19’s varying public health constraints, they have struggled to find and keep their jobs.

While young men have also found it harder than older folk to return to work after sharp blanket restrictions were imposed in March and April, the resumption of construction and other manual labour jobs has helped, Statistics Canada employment data for November showed on Friday.

Overall, there were 20,000 more jobs for youth aged 15 to 24 in November, a 0.9 per cent gain, while the youth unemployment rate fell 1.4 percentage points to 17.4 per cent. 

Participation fell back mostly due to young women exiting the workforce, the data showed, while more youth were in school than a year ago. 

Employment for women aged 15 to 24 was still 11 per cent below February levels, it said, with little change last month, while 34,000 more full-time jobs were filled by young men. (They also shed 19,000 part-time jobs.)

The discrepancy is due to a variety of reasons, one employment industry participant said, including women carrying more caregiving responsibilities and gender bias affecting available work amid a pandemic weighing most heavily on young women, non-white Canadians and newcomers.

“Tourism and hospitality are both sectors that provide key entry-level opportunities to young people, particularly young women,” said Akosua Alagaratnam, executive director of youth employment network First Work. “Women are also taking on child care and other caregiving activities at rates higher than men, speaking to societal inequities which still need to be overcome.”

The unemployment rate of 18.2 per cent for young men was still the highest of all major demographic groups, but the rate is 6.6 percentage points higher for women versus a year ago and only 5.1 points higher for men.

Employment among young women is still down 11 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels.

“With recovery projects focused on infrastructure and capital, women are inherently at a disadvantage in that labour market as gender bias and previous work experience favours male candidates in that sector,” Alagaratnam said. 

The NDP’s Catherine Fife, the Opposition party’s critic for economic growth and job creation, said the provincial government has seen the trend emerging and provided no new money for education and child-care services that would help women return to work.

“Without a she-covery, Ontario’s economy will continue to falter,” she said in a statement. “The Ford government needs to invest in women and their families as the priority by expanding access to child care and making our schools safer. This will allow women to get back to their jobs and drive the economic growth that our province desperately needs.”

Employment increased for young men and for workers in Ontario overall, but 0.5 per cent growth in the province was much slower than the 3.1 per cent monthly average from June to September.

Employment was at a standstill in the Toronto census area, which includes six million people and stretches to Lake Simcoe in the north, Ajax in the east and Burlington in the west, after increasing for five consecutive months.

Provincial and municipal governments imposed more restrictive public health measures on Toronto and neighbouring Peel Region in October after COVID-19 cases spiked. They remain at record-high levels.

Young women took the hardest initial job losses in March and April, when retail and hospitality businesses were shuttered to try to contain the spread of COVID-19. 

Youth employment remains down by a third versus a year ago in the information, culture and recreation sectors, and by a quarter in accommodation and food services as the countries wrestles with a second wave of infections that has eclipsed the volume of the first.

Losses in these two industries, which typically account for about a quarter of youth employment, have been partially offset by an overall gain in the construction industry compared to November 2019.

“This trend of inequity is particularly problematic when we take into account that those already removed from the labour force before the pandemic are being even further isolated from the workforce during this time,” said First Work’s Alagaratnam.

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