Workers get set to pour cement from a truck at the GO train station in Oakville, Ont., Tuesday, Jan.28, 2020. Statistics Canada is set today to report how many workers lost their jobs in April or had their hours slashed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Richard Buchan

COVID-19 wage subsidy program extended as pandemic pushes millions out of workforce

Economists on average had expected the loss of four million jobs and an unemployment rate of 18 per cent

With nearly two million jobs lost in April due to COVID-19, the federal government has announced it will be extending the wage subsidy program beyond June.

The loss of 1,993,800 jobs, according to the report released Friday (May 8) follows one million jobs lost in March. Meanwhile, millions more have seen their hours or incomes slashed due to the pandemic slowing and shuttering businesses.

Ottawa’s emergency wage subsidy, which officially launched last week, provides eligible businesses with 75 per cent of wages in order to keep more employees on their pay roll, or bring them back if they were temporarily laid off.

“We created that subsidy to protect jobs as much as possible. Since the launch of the program, employers have already applied for the wage subsidy for some two million workers,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.

ALSO READ: Trudeau announces 75% wage subsidy for small businesses amid COVID-19

In B.C., where 264,100 jobs were lost in April, Finance Minister Carole James is expected to comment on the latest report later today.

Economists on average had expected the loss of four million jobs and an unemployment rate of 18 per cent, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

The unemployment rate would have been 17.8 per cent had the agency’s labour force survey counted among the unemployed the 1.1 million who stopped looking for work — likely because the COVID-19 economic shutdown has limited job opportunities.

In all, more than one-third of the labour force didn’t work or had reduced hours in April, an “underutilization rate” that was more than three times higher than in February before the pandemic struck.

“Canadians should be confident that we will do whatever we can to ensure that their jobs are safe as we continue to fight the global COVID-19 outbreak,” a trio of federal cabinet ministers said in a joint statement this morning in response to the jobs report.

ALSO READ: B.C. opens applications for COVID-19 emergency worker benefit

“As provinces and territories begin to lift restrictions and our government continues to take steps towards economic recovery, we will be there for Canadians.”

Vulnerable workers who tend to have part-time or temporary work, or in low-paying jobs have been particularly impacted with heavy job losses. Women have seen larger job losses overall, but the number of men out of work in April closed the gender gap in cumulative unemployment losses.

Nearly all of the job losses for men since February were in full-time work, compared to 69.9 per cent for women.

“This, combined with the different industries in which men and women have lost their jobs — for example, more job losses among men have been in construction, and fewer have been in retail trade — signals that the challenges associated with recovering from the COVID-19 economic shutdown may be different for women and men,” the labour force survey says.

In March, health restrictions forced the closure of non-essential businesses, leading to layoffs and cuts in work hours as companies tried to manage costs without enough or any revenue coming in.

ALSO READ: Trudeau unveils rental assistance for small businesses, loosens loan qualifications

Smaller companies — defined as those with less than 20 employees — have shed 30.8 per cent of their workers, medium-sized firms have let 25.1 per cent of workers go, and large companies have seen employment decline by 12.6 per cent.

Hard-hit sectors at the outset include retail, hotels, restaurants and bars, which continued to see losses in April. The losses in the service sector continued in April, down 1.4 million or 9.6 per cent, Statistics Canada says.

Proportionally, the losses were greater in goods-producing sectors like construction and manufacturing, which combined lost 621,000 jobs for a drop of 15.8 per cent after being virtually unchanged in March.

Job losses in April were spread across all provinces, with Quebec particularly hard-hit. The unemployment rate in the province climbed to 17 per cent, the highest rate among all provinces and the highest rate for Quebec itself in over more than four decades of comparable data.

The Canadian Press

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