Coronavirus: Low-income families least likely to be working from home, StatsCan says

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Working from home appears to be working – May 6, 2020

Lower-income Canadian families are the least likely to work in jobs that can be done from home, according to a new report from Statistics Canada released Monday.

Approximately 40 per cent of Canadians have been able to work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, the employment inequality report said. But for some, working from home is not an option.

The outbreak has brought the country to an essential standstill. Restaurants and businesses were closed, provincial parks were taped off and many Canadians have been asked to work from home in order to prevent the virus from spreading.

“Without question, the biggest difference that these shutdowns have had on the labour market is the difference between high and low wage workers and in particular between salaried and hourly-paid workers,” said Mikal Skuterud, an economics professor at the University of Waterloo.

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“These shutdowns have hit low wage workers, hourly-paid workers, much harder than high wage workers.”

The Canadian unemployment rate soared to 13.7 per cent in May, the highest it’s been since 1982, Statistics Canada said. But nearly two in 10 Canadians who remain employed are working on reduced pay, according to an Ipsos poll conducted exclusively for Global News that same month.

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Skuterud, who has been tracking the country’s fluctuating labour market, said he expects there will be an economic rebound, “but the worry is about the kind of the folks who get left behind.”

“There are people that were on temporary layoff. Those temporary layoffs or appear to be becoming permanent layoffs,” he said.

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“Those are the people that you’re seeing here disproportionately that have low earnings, that were in low-wage jobs and that don’t have the kinds of skills that you can easily transition to something else that you could work at home.”

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There a number of factors the report identified that can contribute to this, including education, parenting and what industry someone is in.

Renè Morissette, who co-authored the report, told Global News “whether or not you can work from home and whether or not you provide essential service” were two key considerations when collecting data to determine the effects the pandemic is having on home inequalities.

When it comes to dual-income earners, 62 per cent of women said they were more likely to be able to work from home, in comparison with 38 per cent of men. According to the report, this disparity can be explained by the fact that men and women often work in different fields.

“For example, male-dominant jobs such as agriculture or construction typically cannot be performed from home,” it noted.

Households with lower levels of education and earnings were also found to be the least likely to hold jobs that can be done from home. But the possibility of holding a work-from-home job rose from 30 per cent in respondents who said they’d completed high school to 66 per cent if someone had a bachelor’s degree or higher education.

The report noted that initiatives like the Canada Emergency Response Benefit, which was implemented in mid-March, can help fill the gaps, but it’s still too early to examine whether or not it made a dent in family income inequality.

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“That gap in the working time between the lower-income families and the higher-income families is likely to rise during the pandemic,” said Morissette, adding that inequality in family earnings and employment income is likely to become more severe the longer the pandemic goes on.

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