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COVID-19 roundup: An uneven job recovery

A woman looks at a jobs sign in Toronto in April 2020. The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette
A woman looks at a jobs sign in Toronto in April 2020. The Canadian Press/Nathan Denette
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It’s day 150 since Canada’s 100th coronavirus case. The number of cases is 118,775 as of publication time, up 214 since yesterday—a 26 per cent decrease from the seven-day prior average of 289 new cases. At its peak on May 3, the seven-day average was 1,603 new cases a day. 

New York City, the United States’ largest school district, has cleared the way for students in classrooms at least some of the time. Schools can choose their preferred way to restart the academic year, whether that involves in-person learning with or without changes to classroom capacity, remote learning, outdoor classes or a hybrid of such approaches. “That is all up to their discretion,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

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Employment in Canada increased by 419,000 in July, a 2.4 per cent gain, according to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey (LFS), released Friday. Following three months of upward movement, the job count is now 1.3 million, or seven per cent lower than it was in February, pre-pandemic. The unemployment rate dropped to 10.9 per cent, down from the May record high of 13.7 per cent.

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The gains have been uneven. More women returned to work in July than men (275,000 and 144,000, respectively), but they’re still further away from pre-pandemic levels across every age group. That slower pace will “likely have a more significant impact on the hit to GDP,” according to a mid-July report co-authored by RBC deputy chief economist Dawn Desjardins; the bank expects the economy to shrink by five per cent in the back half of 2020. “In the near term, policies to address childcare will be crucial to keeping women engaged in the workforce,” the co-authors wrote, calling for more flexible working arrangements to promote more equitable sharing of kid-raising. Meanwhile, Ottawa has delayed implementing a 2018 law requiring federally regulated employers to collect gender-based pay data and address gaps until next year, citing the pandemic.

Here’s what employment looks like relative to February for men and women in the “core” working age range of 25 to 54 years old:

Friday’s numbers also show a significant race gap in the job market. The share of unemployed white people was up 4.4 percentage points last month compared to July 2019, less than half the increase for South Asian workers (9.1 percentage points) and significantly below the uptick for Chinese (8.4 percentage points), Black (6.3 percentage points), and Filipino (6.2 percentage points) workers. StatCan began collecting data about LFS respondents’ visible minority group membership for the first time last month; it used other data to arrive at population group characteristics for previous periods, to enable the comparison.  

Among workers aged 15 to 69, the unemployment rate among every visible minority group for which StatCan published data was higher than for the population as a whole. That may be because they’re concentrated in industries most affected by lockdown measures, such as  accommodation and food services, StatCan said. Here’s the breakdown:

As in previous months, July’s gains mapped the pace of provincial reopenings. “The initial easing of COVID-19 restrictions occurred later in Ontario than in most other provinces,” StatCan noted; it led with 151,000 new jobs. Alberta added 67,000 to its employment count, with the unemployment rate falling for the first time since February. “Not surprisingly, the provinces that had initially been less hard-hit by the virus have opened more quickly and are now boasting the lowest jobless rates in the country,” wrote BMO chief economist Douglas Porter in a Friday note.

Friday’s numbers “continue to highlight the quick-wins that were available as things reopened,” said Brendon Bernard, the in-house economist at job platform Indeed Canada. “However, there were signs that further progress might not be as rapid, as a return to work among those temporarily laid off was the prime source of job gains.” Nearly half the increases were in wholesale and retail trade and accommodation and food services, with employment rising by more than 100,000 in each sector as even more stores and restaurants started letting customers in again. 

Meanwhile, employment in the U.S. rose by 1.8 million, bringing the unemployment rate down to 10.2 per cent. Both countries came in under their record June numbers.

“Who does this? In times like these, who tries to go after your closest ally, your closest trading partner, your number-one customer in the entire world?”: Ontario Premier Doug Ford responded Friday to the United States imposing aluminum tariffs, adding that the U.S. is planning on implementing steel tariffs next. Canada is imposing $3.6 billion worth of retaliatory tariffs in response.

Drinking from the firehose:

  • The union representing workers at a Maple Leaf Foods plant in Brandon, Man. announced four more workers had tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday. A total of eight workers at the plant have tested positive for the virus so far.
  • Ottawa is planning to spend up to $10 million for a COVID Alert public awareness campaign. The Logic spoke with Digital Government Minister Joyce Murray about the app launch.
  • Virginia has released an app using the Apple-Google exposure notification API, the first U.S. state to do so.
  • Second Cup will shut some of its 244 locations and start selling its coffee at multi-brand retailers. The chain reported $3.5 million in second-quarter revenue, a 45.7 per cent decrease.
  • The Canadian Camping Association said governments need to provide $100 million in funding to prevent 250 overnight summer camps from going out of business by the end of the year, and another 350 by May 2021.
  • A fifth of students admitted to Harvard University are deferring their first year. All courses will be taught online.
  • Facebook employees won’t be required back in the office until July 2021, following Google and Uber.
  • An Air India Express Boeing 737 carrying 191 Indian passengers and crew returning from Dubai to Kerala skidded off the runway, killing at least 16. The flight was believed to be filled with passengers returning home to India as their jobs disappeared as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Plague-proof vintages: Italy’s buchette del vino, or “wine windows,” are reopening as a way to buy bottles from famous vintners while maintaining social distancing. There are over 150 wine windows, which were first introduced to limit the spread of the bubonic plague in the 1600s, in Florence alone.

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