The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is wreaking havoc on Canada’s economy, plunging the country into its worst month for job losses—ever.
On Friday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced that the last week has seen 500,000 employment insurance applications, a steep increase from the 27,000 submitted during the same time frame last year.
Half a million EI applicants translates to about 2.6 percent of Canada’s workforce, according to University of Calgary economist, Trevor Tombe.
“It’s clear that this shock we are seeing right now is the largest negative employment shock that Canada has ever seen—by far,” Tombe told VICE.
The last time Canada saw a 2.6 percent drop in employment was during the Great Depression in July 1932, but the decline in jobs took place over the course of the entire month, not just one week, Tombe said.
Every province except Nova Scotia has declared a state of emergency, forcing non-essential services across Canada, including bars, restaurants, and nightclubs, to either close their doors entirely or operate at limited capacity. The move has resulted in many service workers losing their jobs.
Tombe said about one in five workers in Canada are employed by the retail and food sectors, so it’s “not surprising” to see such a steep increase in employment insurance applications.
Service workers often work paycheque to paycheque and have limited savings, Tombe added, making the economic malaise caused by COVID-19 a “critical challenge” for the government.
“Speed is going to be the most important factor here,” Tombe said. “We should give the government space to act big and to act quickly.”
On Wednesday, Trudeau announced an $82 billion package—worth about three percent of Canada’s GDP—to support many people hit the hardest by the virus’ economic impacts. Measures include waived wait times for employment insurance and a new COVID-19 emergency care benefit for those who aren’t eligible for EI or can’t take sick leave, such as gig workers, freelancers, part-timers and cultural workers. The benefit will give those who are sick with COVID-19 or need to quarantine, as well as those who must care for sick loved ones, regular payments of $900, comparable to those offered by EI, every two weeks for up to 15 weeks.
Trudeau said he is considering further economic measures. Reports have also said he is working with Alberta to bail out the province’s oil and gas sector, which is reeling as oil prices, which sit below $30 per barrel, continue to plummet amid COVID-19 fears.
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