The ongoing coronavirus pandemic is affecting Peterborough’s employment numbers, and not in a good way.
“Unfortunately we are the second-highest rate of unemployment out of any city in Canada,” said Karen Wilson, executive director at Employment Planning & Counselling in Peterborough, Ont.
According to Statistics Canada, Peterborough’s unemployment rate for October was 11.7 per cent – up from 11.2 per cent reported in September.
That places the city second only to Edmonton, which has an unemployment rate of 12.0 per cent.
And according to Wilson, COVID-19 is presenting new challenges when it comes to employment.
“Peterborough is made up of mostly small to medium-sized businesses and a lot of them have been extremely hard hit,” she said.
“Employers are struggling to keep their doors open let alone hire, many of them have had to lay people off at the beginning of the pandemic and have not been able to bring all of those people back.”
Wilson said from the job-seekers perspective, health concerns and the need for child care, as well as mental health issues, are preventing a lot of people from rejoining the workforce. She said another factor is minimum wage work — why give up the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB) to work and potentially make less or go back to work and then have to pay for child care.
But, she said in the past month they have seen a sizeable uptick in the number of people looking to return to work and Wilson said while some companies aren’t in a position to hire to the level they were pre-COVID-19, others are thriving.
“The construction and trades industry, for example, security, for anyone who wants to be a driver, those positions are there, but again there is that fear and insecurity that causes these employers to have jobs that are left open,” she said.
Jim Russell, CEO of United Way Peterborough & District said the types of jobs in Peterborough are changing and it is a matter of available jobs aligning with the skills of potential employees.
“It is why we are excited to be funding initiatives that look at having people be ready for work, that look at people being able to stay in their jobs,” said Russell. “We have to make sure that the gap between someone without a job getting a job that is going to emerge and be needed is met.”
Russell also said it is important for those jobs to be quality positions.
“A lot of jobs in Peterborough right now are very precarious, a lot of people have to have two or three part-time jobs without benefits, and that is a very difficult situation for families and individuals to be in,” said Russell. “We think that work needs to be permanent, well paying, with benefits and that adds to not only individuals’ health but also community’s health.”
Russell says the health of a community extends well beyond employment issues.
“Organizations like the United Way fund a wide range of organizations that assist people with mental health, domestic violence; those are some of the main issues that are faced by unemployed people,” said Wilson. “Poverty, homelessness all of those issues need to be brought forward and need to be taken care of.”
Russell said that is the goal of United Way’s “Unignorbale” campaign, to shine the spotlight on those ongoing community challenges that officials say will continue after the pandemic is over.