Polygon Created with Sketch. Home | Engage

Widening inequality: The pandemic’s effects on jobs and income

Lost jobs and reduced earnings are a frequent product of COVID-19, Environics Institute Survey shows, with some workers, especially Indigenous peoples, youth and newcomers, facing harshest consequences of pandemic

Toronto, May 17, 2021 – The workers hardest hit by job loss or a reduction in work hours during the pandemic were already among the most vulnerable members of the workforce, according to a new Environics Institute survey that shows COVID-19’s polarizing impact on employment and earnings.

A new survey report called Widening inequality: Effects of the pandemic on jobs and income, released in collaboration with the Future Skills Centre and the Diversity Institute, reveals that younger workers, people earning lower incomes, those less securely employed, recent immigrants, racialized and Indigenous workers, and persons with disabilities were the most adversely affected by COVID-19. The pandemic has exacerbated trends and inequalities in the workforce, according to the survey.

Read the complete report here.

Key findings: 

  • One in four people had work hours reduced in the pandemic. Just under one in five became unemployed, either temporarily or on an ongoing basis, while one in five had to work more.
  • One in three Canadians are earning less than they did before the pandemic, with just over one in ten earning more.
  • One in four young people between the ages of 18 and 24 became unemployed, and half of those in the same age group reported becoming unemployed or having their hours reduced.
  • Indigenous peoples were more than two-and-a-half times more likely to become unemployed due to the pandemic.
  • Over one in three part-time workers saw reduced work hours versus one in five of full-time employees, and part-timers were twice as likely to become unemployed, without finding a new job.
  • One in four recent immigrants became unemployed (whether or not they subsequently found a new job) and one in three had their work hours reduced.
  • One in four Canadians reported receiving emergency financial support through either the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) or the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB). This number rose to more than three in five among those who became unemployed due to the pandemic. Younger Canadians were significantly more likely to receive CERB or CESB. Four in five Canadians who received this emergency support found the benefits helpful.
The pandemic has highlighted the economic disparity among Canadian workers, showing that those with the most precarious employment situations are being disproportionately affected with job loss, reduced income, or fewer working hours. It’s crucial that we have an inclusive recovery strategy that prevents further negative impact on underserved groups, particularly Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, newcomers and youth.
Pedro Barata, executive director of the Future Skills Centre
More secure employment and higher incomes helped many Canadians weather this difficult storm, but others have felt its full force. The result is greater inequality in our society. This research can help focus our efforts to build a lasting economic recovery for all.
Andrew Parkin, executive director of the Environics Institute
We need to look at systemic barriers which we know result in under-employment and wage gaps for some groups because employers frequently look for skills in all the wrong places. By creating more inclusive and innovative hiring practices we can help employers tap into deeper and more diverse talent pools.
Wendy Cukier, director of Ryerson’s Diversity Institute and academic research lead for FSC
We know that the COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the lives of all Canadians, in particular lower-wage workers, young people, racialized workers, persons with disabilities and – not least of all – women. This is why our government is building an economic recovery that is inclusive, and leaves no one behind. Budget 2021 fulfills our commitment to invest in measures that help women get the tools they need to bridge the gap.
Minister of Employment, Workforce Development and Disability Inclusion, Carla Qualtrough


The report is based on the Survey on Employment and Skills, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research, in partnership with the Future Skills Centre and Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute. It took place from Nov. 24 to Dec. 22, 2020. Researchers aimed to gain a more in-depth understanding of the pandemic’s future implications for employment and in-demand skills for Canadians. Responses came from 5,351 Canadians aged 18 and up in all provinces and territories.

About the Future Skills Centre

The Future Skills Centre (FSC) is a forward-thinking centre for research and collaboration dedicated to preparing Canadians for employment success. We believe Canadians should feel confident about the skills they have to succeed in a changing workforce. As a pan-Canadian community, we are collaborating to rigorously identify, test, measure, and share innovative approaches to assessing and developing the skills Canadians need to thrive in the days and years ahead. The Future Skills Centre was founded by a consortium whose members are Ryerson University, Blueprint, and The Conference Board of Canada, and is funded by the Government of Canada’s Future Skills Program.

About the Environics Institute

The Environics Institute for Survey Research (www.environicsinstitute.org) was established by Michael Adams in 2006 to promote relevant and original public opinion and social research on important issues of public policy and social change.

About Ryerson University’s Diversity Institute

The Diversity Institute conducts and coordinates multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder research to create practical strategies to advance skills and employment opportunities for women, racialized people, newcomers, Indigenous people, persons living with disabilities and others. The Diversity Institute is home to unique programs such as the Advanced Digital and Professional Training Program (ADaPT) as well as the Women Entrepreneurship Knowledge Hub aimed at building an inclusive innovation ecosystem.


Media Contact

Eglantine Ronfard
Communications Manager
Future Skills Centre

The author of the report is available for media interviews in English and French.