Pandemic job losses impact more Manitoba women than men 

Almost one year after the pandemic began, policy analysts say unemployment rates for Manitoba women are quickly outpacing rates for men.

According to the report, Women, Work and COVID-19: Priorities for supporting women and the economy, released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, single mothers with children under the age of six have been hardest hit by job loss during the pandemic. 

Winnipegger Casandra Woolever lost not one job, but two sources of income a month after the World Health Organization declared a global pandemic last March. 

The single mother to two kids, aged three and five, was self-employed with two jobs when the pandemic hit. 

She operated a daycare out of her apartment. She also ran a small business selling Métis-inspired winter clothing. But she had to shut down the daycare after both of her clients lost their own jobs.

Casandra Woolever with her daughter Ophelia and son Hudson. Woolever is one of many women experiencing the negative financial impacts of the pandemic. (Lisa Landreville)

Revenue from her small business also dried up, and added to those income losses was the cost of going through a divorce.

“It was very challenging. I was just eight to 10 months into a separation, going through a divorce, already dealing financially with lack of child support. When my daycare went under, I had no income. None. Just nothing.”

‘Women’s equality being wiped out’

Molly McCracken, Manitoba’s director for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, says the report shows that women who want to work are falling behind.

“What we’re seeing is decades of progress on women’s equality being wiped out by the pandemic, so we need a big feminist push in the recovery from COVID — feminist, meaning a real emphasis on supporting women’s equity and equality,” she said.

In February, Manitoba’s unemployment rate for women climbed to 7.1 per cent — one of the highest in Canada. In contrast, men’s unemployment remained around 5.1 per cent. 

Molly McCracken, the Manitoba director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, is worried the progress made in gender equity will be lost because of the pandemic. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

After not being able to meet her rent payments, Woolever had no choice but to move. But then she applied for the Canada Emergency Response Benefit and said it offered better pay than running a daycare. 

“As daycare workers, we get paid about 30 dollars a day, which if you’re working 13-14 hours a day does not equate to a normal basic wage,” she said.

McCracken says the province has a long way to go before equity can return to the workforce. 

“One thing the pandemic has taught us is the importance of social infrastructure like child care and long-term care. We don’t have a universal child-care system here in Canada yet. When workers in those sectors are overwhelmingly women, overwhelmingly racialized women, so investing in social infrastructure helps everybody go to paid work.”

McCracken said this investing “will help the recovery, because you need child care to look for a job and get a job.” 

Lack of child care dampens growth

Woolever was able to focus on her own company, called Métis Branded, by slowly building her clientele. But the cost of child care posed another set of challenges, so she relied on non-profit organizations to help, including food banks. 

“It was just [us] eating the bare minimum amount.”

Last fall, she could no longer afford to send both of her children to daycare. With COVID-19 cases reported at her son’s school, she decided to homeschool him instead.

“If they were both taken care of, I would have a lot more time to work a normal eight-hour day,” she said.

One year later, although Woolever’s business is growing, she says she does not have the child care supports she needs to thrive. 

She plans to move in with her mother to have one less bill to pay, along with some extra child care help.

She says her business would grow much faster if she had subsidized child-care supports in place.

Opportunities in male-dominated sectors

McCracken says the report also highlights sectors where women can find job opportunities. Those including traditionally male-dominated areas like construction, trades and manufacturing. and could put the economy on a path to what she calls a “she-covery.”

But Manitoba has the second-lowest female participation rate for those sectors in Canada.

Colleen Munro and Nicole Chabot are working to change that.

Nicole Chabot owns L. Chabot Enterprises Inc. She says she works hard to attract women to the construction industry, and points out that not all jobs are on work sites.

Nicole Chabot owns L. Chabot Enterprises Inc., pictured here at a Gull Lake gravel production site, She works to attract more women to the construction and trade sectors. (Submitted by Nicole Chabot)

“I think we do need to really highlight how far our industry has come so that people can be aware that a lot of those stereotypes say they really don’t hold weight anymore,” Chabot said on CBC Radio’s Up to Speed on Monday.

Munro is the president of Winnipeg-based Hugh Munro Construction Ltd., and chairperson of the Manitoba Construction Sector Council and the Manitoba Heavy Construction Association.

She also works to attract more women to the construction and trade sectors. But she says sometimes women consider these sectors too late. 

“I think it really has to start in our schools,” Munro said. “The younger women, to get into schools and say this is an option. Our industry is a great provider of … benefits and not low pay [like] so many other industries for women.”