Philip Cross: The myth of a ‘she-cession’

The recession, the economic equivalent of a thermonuclear device, affected men and women almost equally

Armine Yalnizyan of the Atkinson Foundation has been superspreading the idea that the distinctive feature of the 2020 recession is its disproportionate impact on women. She maintains that, with its devastating hit on service industries, the pandemic has caused greater job losses for women than men, thus creating Canada’s first “she-cession,” in which women have borne the brunt of the downturn. She has also argued that the recovery has been hampered by women not being able to return to the labour force because they have to care for children. Universal daycare, she says, would be a “magic bullet” that would speed up the recovery.

A close examination of the facts reveals major holes in these arguments. To start with, the recession affected men and women almost equally. Between February and August 535,000 men and 562,000 women lost their jobs, as shown in the accompanying graph. Women fared slightly worse during the closing of the economy between February and April (losing 1.536 million jobs versus 1.467 million for men) but they also recovered slightly faster between April and August (with 974,000 women getting jobs versus 932,000 men).

What is exceptional about this recession is, not that women’s employment fell slightly faster than men’s, but that both fell off a cliff. At the depth of the financial crisis in 2009, monthly employment fell by 125,000 in January — at the time a shockingly large number. But in March of this year Canada lost one million jobs. In April, it lost another two million — 16 times more than in January 2009. Twice as many jobs were lost in these two months than in all of Canada’s recessions since 1976 combined. That should be the exclusive focus of anyone’s analysis, not parsing out statistically insignificant differences between men and women.

Faced with such bleak job prospects and receiving generous government support payments that reduced the urgency to look for work, both men and women withdrew from the labour force. At the depth of the recession in April, the labour force participation rates for men and women had each declined at the same rate. As job prospects improved over the summer, the rate for men did rise slightly faster than that for women though neither has fully recovered. Clearly, some of the decline in labour force participation reflected forces that have affected both men and women. Even if all of the slightly larger 0.9 percentage point overall decline in female labour force participation since February was attributable to a lack of daycare, that still accounts for only 86,500 (or 15.4 per cent) of the 562,000 women who have not regained their jobs.

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Source: Philip Cross | Financial Post

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