She-cession, He-cession or They-cession?

March 8, 2021
Denise Mullen

As we continue to emerge from the COVID-19 recession, unemployment remains a reality for too many British Columbians. Joblessness is especially acute in consumer facing industries such as tourism, restaurants, audience attended live events, and a range of personal services. Many service industries have higher proportions of female workers, which is why women were hard hit in the early stages of the shut down last year. But since then, female employment in B.C. recovered more quickly than male employment. A year after the pandemic started, females still face proportionately more job losses, but in the B.C. context fortunately, an obvious and deep she-cession is not evident.

The COVID-19 closures and associated recession initially resulted in more job losses for females. But as the first figure shows, which tracks job losses since February (in actual number of jobs and percent change) the downturn in employment was roughly equal across genders by August. Moving into September and October men became the ones experiencing more persistent job losses. While initially more severe, the job rebound for women was stronger. More recently, however, the recovery in female employment has levelled off. And because male employment levels continued to gradually rise female employment is now down 2.1% from February while male employment is down a more modest 1.1%.

Unemployment rates for both genders surged to around 12% in the wake of the lockdown in spring 2020. Mirroring the same pattern as job losses, the female unemployment rate was first higher than the male rate and then lower by September. With the bump in the female rate in January, unemployment rates for both males and females are essentially equal at ~7.5%.

Participation rates – which measure the share of the population in the workforce -- for both genders have regained pre-pandemic levels. For females, the recovery was slower, and their rate did trend down more significantly in the year ahead of the pandemic.

A segment of the workforce that does stand out as disproportionally impacted is younger female workers. Employment for those aged 15-25 is still down a striking 11% from February. In comparison, the number of young-employed males is down a much more modest 2.6%. And compared to their older counterparts, young females are far behind core working age (25-54) females where employment is down “just” 1.5%. The unemployment rate for the females aged 15 to 24 sat at 20% in January, 7 percentage points higher than young males.

The final figure shows job losses over the past year by gender and industry. There is substantial job loss for females across several service industries. In contrast, the largest absolute loss for males is in the construction sector. A key reason that overall male employment has recovered more so than females is because of the strong job gains in the professional, scientific, and technical service industry.

In summary, females experienced greater job loss than males in the early stages of the lockdown but have made up much of the difference. Much of the remaining shortfall in the recovery of female employment is because of weakness in the under 25 cohort. While there are clearly areas for concern, including the reality that women tend to do a disproportionate share of childcare and household work, in aggregate the employment impacts across genders are perhaps not large enough to warrant a “she-cession” label.

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