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Canada’s economy won’t recover unless marginalized groups, women helped too: report

Coronavirus: The impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable in our society
WATCH: Coronavirus: The impact of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable in our society

Canadians cannot expect the economy to fully recover from COVID-19 without helping those most affected by the downturn — including women, people of colour, and the LGBTQ+ community, a new report says.

Released Tuesday, “A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for Canada: Making the economy work for everyone,” was co-written by the Institute for Gender and the Economy at University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and YWCA Canada.

“If we look at the impact from a health and economic standpoint, it is disproportionately, on those with intersecting identities. You wouldn’t be able to have an economic recovery without paying attention to who is impacted and why,” said Sarah Kaplan, an executive lead on the report and professor of strategic management at Rotman.

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“We actually won’t get economic recovery if we don’t get to things that are holding women back.”

In the midst of the pandemic, the employment rate declined twice as much for Canadian women in the 25 to 54 age range compared with men. The report also says that Black, racialized and immigrant women are much more likely to be personal support workers, cleaners, and work in other “essential but low-paid occupations” that lack paid sick days or family leave policies.

While more data on race and gender identity is needed due to lack of availability, the report also notes that many essential workers are unprotected from the effects of COVID-19, because they are migrant workers or work in the gig economy.

“COVID-19 has not been the great equalizer, it has been the great revealer of existing inequalities,” says Kaplan, noting statistics showing that women are primary caregivers for elders, and kids who are out of school.

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The report asks governments at all levels, as well as businesses and charities, to consider eight policy goals that address systemic racism, emphasize good jobs, protect victims of domestic violence, improve funding for small businesses, and promote diversity in the decision-making process.

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Some of the specific policy recommendations focus on the childcare industry, such as increasing wages for child care workers and creating an expedited path to permanent residency for migrant child care workers to create “greater incentives for workers in care-economy based sectors such as child care and elder care.”

Other suggestions call for updates to legislation, such as adding at least 14 paid sick days and paid family leave for all workers, lowering the eligibility requirement for employment insurance to 360 hours and raising the benefit rate to 75 per cent of earnings.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has uncovered the significant divide between people who have ‘good jobs’ — those who have been able to maintain a secure income and remain healthy_and those who do not,” the report said.

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Some of the recommendations also touch on long-term problems, such as homelessness and anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism, that existed before the pandemic.

“Many people long to ‘get back to normal,’ but the pandemic has made clear that the old ‘normal’ was not good for everyone,” the report said.

Kaplan says that it’s important to include these issues in the report because it uses a definition of “feminism” that focuses on eliminating inequities for everyone.

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“You cannot talk about issues that impact women without (talking about) race or disability … a lot of the people who were most likely to lose their jobs were women or women of colour,” said Kaplan, giving the example of staff in long-term care homes, many of whom have had to work multiple jobs due to low pay, increasing the risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19.

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“With economic plans, we think about investing in infrastructure. Now we need to invest in social infrastructure, to improve lives for women who work in those services.”

The report asks lawmakers to pick up the pace of the National Housing Strategy to build 125,000 units of affordable housing, with a 33 per cent carve-out for gender-focused investments. Kaplan points out that lack of access to clean water and reliable internet in many parts of Canada — two policy issues discussed in the report — have hampered plans for caregivers to school children from home, or for companies hoping to keep diverse workforces employed remotely.

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The authors of the report suggest that the rebuilding plan could focus on “building a strong safety net” that “protects us all,” likening the pandemic to the Great Depression and World Wars.

“A paradigm shift is afoot. A broader range of people across Canada are now seeing the importance of feminized and racialized labour for our health and well-being — where women, especially women of colour and recent immigrants, are leading the response to a major health crisis and preventing further economic and social fallout,” the report said.