More than 246,000 Manitobans have received federal cash through Ottawa’s emergency response benefit since the COVID-19 pandemic bottomed out the economy, according to Statistics Canada data released Wednesday.
That represents just over a third of the provincial labour force, said University of Manitoba associate economics professor Fletcher Baragar.
Manitoba’s labour force was 690,000 as of 2019, per the Manitoba Bureau of Statistics’ last four-year report.
However, Baragar notes that the number of people who received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit could appear skewed because it doesn’t necessarily mean 246,000 people were out of work at one time.
“Some may have only been unemployed for a short period of time, others for a longer period of time — so, it gives us another dimension of what’s going on in the labour market, but it needs to be put in context with actual employment numbers and actual unemployment numbers,” Baragar said in an interview.
The May Statistics Canada labour force survey showed about 74,000 people were unemployed in Manitoba.
“It’s a bit misleading… because these are the numbers that reflect people who at some point since the initiation of the program up to the end of June … have applied for the CERB,” Baragar said.
“The unemployment numbers… seem to be much smaller — Manitoba unemployment now is around 74,000 and the unemployment percentage of the labour force is down to about 11 per cent, which is quite a bit lower than the 37 per cent at the CERB.”
Statistics Canada’s newest numbers show 8,156,280 people received CERB payments for at least one month nationwide, as of June 28 — that’s about $53.53 billion in federal payouts.
A total of 246,440 Manitobans have used CERB since the program was introduced in early April. Just over 45 per cent were under the age of 35.
Fewer young people working has a disproportionate effect on the economy, Baragar said.
“That’s… a demographic that tends to have higher propensities to consume, so they tend to consume a higher percentage of their income, many who live paycheque to paycheque,” he said.
“That creates demand and jobs for other workers, other businesses, as those incomes spending, demand sort of flows and ripples through the economy.”
But without money to spend, that increased spending can’t happen.
“With that group losing their jobs, and therefore then losing their primary income source, not only does it immediately affect them and their families and their financial situation but that ripple effect — well, you don’t get the ripples,” the economist said.
Baragar pointed to a number of factors that could help the province’s economy recover in the aftermath of the ongoing pandemic.
“I think on the health front, ensuring safety and preserving safety and enhancing safety, needs to be a top priority,” he said, adding that would increase consumer, worker and business confidence which would, in turn, create increased spending.
He also pointed to short-term support for people who’ve lost work or income.
“Providing adequate credit, providing considerable leniency in terms of payment schedules, providing income bridges, providing support, income supports for short periods or temporary periods, that also needs to be crucial,” he said.
In the longer term, however, Baragar suggested public support for businesses to innovate against the backdrop of COVID-19.
“Enable businesses and workers to find new ways to do their work, to run their businesses that are safe, safe for themselves, safe for their customers… That’s going to take some time,” he said.
“It’s going to be trial and error, there’s going to be hits and misses, so they need to have funding, they need to have some protection from immediate creditors, they need to have the necessary capital to incur the new expenses.”