Research Update: Taking stock at the one-year mark: The socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 in Canada
A review by Laurel Van De Keere
The year-in-review report COVID-19 in Canada: A One-Year Update on Social and Economic Impacts was published by Statistics Canada in March 2021 using statistical information provided by Canadian citizens, businesses, governments, and other institutions. The report provides a snapshot of the socio-economic impacts of COVID-19 on Canadians one year after the country first entered lockdown in March 2020, and points the reader to the Statistics Canada website to obtain more detailed information through an analysis series, dashboards, and the Canadian Statistical Geospatial Explorer. Report findings are organized and presented in four broad themes: the ongoing response to COVID-19, indirect health impacts, social and economic inequalities, and recovery efforts.
Canadians’ Continued Response to COVID-19
The report begins by pointing out that one year into the pandemic, the majority of Canadians were continuing to abide by public health best practices such as physical distancing, mask wearing, and self-isolating following possible exposures. However, vaccine hesitancy increased over the same period, with young adults, those having completed grade 13 or less, and Black and other visible minority Canadians being less likely to get a vaccine. The report notes that vaccination is critical to protecting essential health care workers, among whom visible minority groups are overrepresented, and to protecting Canadian workers with limited opportunities to work from home—such as those working in social services, education, and retail; the majority of whom are female.
In addition to increased mortality rates among seniors, young males, and Black and other visible minority groups in urban centres, Canadians experienced a number of indirect health impacts from COVID-19. As part of the pandemic response, many non-urgent medical procedures were cancelled across Canada, including disruptions to cancer screenings, which the report suggests may lead to increases in cancer rates and deaths. Self-reported perception of mental health decreased among all types of Canadians with the onset of pandemic restrictions, notably among youth and working-age populations, but improved during periods of eased restrictions and school re-openings. Most health care workers reported worsening mental health and stress levels compared to prior to the pandemic. Calls to police services in response to shoplifting, break and entering, vehicle theft, and assaults all declined compared to the year prior, giving way to an increasing proportion of mental health-related calls for wellness checks, emotional crises, and domestic disturbances.
Social and Economic Impacts
The report draws from assorted Statistics Canada data to illustrate the uneven nature of COVID-19’s social and economic impacts, both during and following the pandemic. On average, COVID-19 posed a greater risk to Indigenous and other visible minority groups due to higher rates of underlying health conditions. At the time of publishing, these groups were also experiencing higher levels of unemployment, financial difficulties, and representation in low-wage jobs, making it more difficult to meet basic household financial commitments than before the pandemic. Young Canadians were also particularly hard hit by job losses and increased barriers to enrolment in education and training. While returns-to-work following the easement of restrictions were the highest amongst professions with work from home capacity (such as finance, insurance, education, and professional, scientific, and technical industries), sustained work interruptions continued to disproportionately impact financially vulnerable families and low-wage workers, worsening pre-existing earnings inequalities. In many cases, impacts on these groups had widened pre-pandemic inequalities, threatening the possibility of an inclusive recovery.
By March 2021, economic activity remained lower than pre-pandemic levels based on indicators in nearly every sector, despite the assistance provided by a variety of emergency response supports. As a demographic group, young females were the least likely to have returned to pre-pandemic employment levels, with workers in lower paying service industries such as accommodation, food services, arts, entertainment, and recreation also remaining severely affected. Productivity levels rose in more digitally-intensive industries compared to pre-pandemic levels. The report notes that by March 2021, it remained unclear whether many of these changes would be temporary or permanent, but suggests that immigration and investments in automation, robotics, infrastructure, and sustainable technologies may be cornerstones to economic recovery in Canada.
Statistics Canada’s report distills a wealth of statistical information about COVID-19’s current and possible future impacts on Canadians in a textually and visually-accessible format. Due to the breadth of topics covered, at times the report glazes over important trends, such as the pandemic’s impacts on Canadians experiencing homelessness, recent immigrants, or Canadians with substance dependences. To its credit, while not covered in the report, some of the resources referenced throughout the report do link to further data that paints a broader picture of important trends left out for the sake of brevity.
One useful feature of the report is a series of questions woven throughout; for example, “to what extent will the adoption of new business technologies [such as automation] affect workers?” (p. 43) and “will investment in new [environmental and clean technology products] provide reasonable stimulus for job and income growth?” (p. 47). These questions may serve as a useful tool to encourage personal or group reflection, or to identify possible areas for further research.
Statistics Canada. (2021). COVID-19 in Canada: A one-year update on social and economic impacts. http://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/en/pub/11-631-x/11-631-x2021001-eng.pdf?st=Vl542iPF
Get to know our volunteer:
Laurel Van De Keere holds a Master of Arts degree in International Development Studies and has spent the last decade developing strategic policy for the provincial and federal governments. She is passionate about personal wellness and human rights, supporting various global and local initiatives related to these causes.