On a recent Friday, Services Canada updated its Job Bank to include the organizations and businesses that had been approved to receive Canada Summer Jobs funding, including G(irls)20. Last year, G(irls)20 received no more than 10 inquiries about a Canada Summer Jobs position. But this year, in response to our listing, we received 51 emails and two phone calls by the end of the day. A few days later the count was up to 200.

Each CV we received shared the story of a young woman’s ambitious plan to earn a competitive degree, balance service-industry work in the process, and compete to join a skilled workforce. If our inbox is any indication, there are clearly more young women out there looking for opportunities that are harder to come by.

When the COVID-19 economic shutdown began, commentators were quick to identify it as a “she-cession,” bring attention to the disproportionate impact on racialized and immigrant women, and centre advocacy on responsive measures such as affordable and accessible child care. G(irls)20 joined this chorus and will continue to highlight these needs.

G(irls)20 works to advance young women in leadership. As advocates on behalf of young women, we wanted to understand how the youngest demographic of working women fared during the first six weeks of Canada’s economic shutdown. Economics data released since the crisis began point to an alarming and untold story of one invisible group of Canadians who have been disproportionately affected by the economic crisis: girls and young women.


An economic crisis for young women

To better understand how young women (15-25) have fared compared to older women and men, we looked at the data shared in the latest labour force numbers from Statistics Canada.

Widespread and rapid layoffs and furloughs have had a disproportionate effect on youth. In April, there were 480,000 fewer employed youth (15-24, both sexes) than there were a month before. While young women and men lost full-time jobs at nearly the same rate, young women fared worse in the loss of part-time work: 31 per cent of the young women who had part-time jobs in March lost their jobs in April, compared with 24 per cent of males the same age.

Notably, young women and older women have not had the same experience during the first six weeks of this economic crisis. The share of women who lost their jobs was nearly three times higher among ages 15-24 than those 25 and older. These trends do not seem to be related to typical labour market changes between months.

 

Decline in employment by age and sex, March-April 2020 

How did this happen?

In 2019, a full 95 per cent of employed women aged 15-24 worked in the “services-producing sector,” and more than half worked in either retail or in accommodation and food services. These are the young women who are assembling our salad bowls, folding our rejected t-shirts in H&M, and serving up our cold pints. They are at the bars and malls, which for the most part continue to be shut down. Young women have been an invisible casualty of this crisis. They were the first to be sent home in March and, as some of the most public-facing workers in our economy, will likely to be the last to return to work.

Even worse, this data does not take into account the huge number of young people who had summer jobs lined up and have either lost hours or lost their job altogether. In a Statistics Canada crowdsourcing survey of more than 100,000 students between April 19 – May 1, 48 per cent of those who had a job lined up said they had lost their job or been temporarily laid off, and another 26 per cent said they were working reduced hours. While youth will immediately feel the loss of income, they might not immediately see what effect it has on their early careers, as they try to build valuable leadership skills that will set them up for future employment.

We already know that young women are not paid as much as young men. A Girl Guides of Canada study, Girls on the Job: Realities in Canada, looked at the youngest demographic of summer workers (15-18) in the summer of 2018 and discovered a $3/hour pay gap across gender. Deepening the existing gender pay gap, young women have now lost part-time work and part-time hours at a greater rate than young men, and the sectors in which they work will be the last to return to full employment. Without intervention, this trend could send Canada backwards on our push for gender equality in the economy.

As G(irls)20 works to gather more stories and data about young women’s employment during this crisis, we can already identify three critical areas for intervention:

1. We must ensure education is not disrupted

Since the 1990s, Canadian women have made impressive gains in education, leading males in graduation rates from post-secondary education, although significant barriers persist for Indigenous women and women living with disabilities. The gender pay gap has narrowed, if frustratingly slowly, from 38 per cent to 22 per cent in the past 40 years – though, again, racialized women continue to make only 84 cents on the dollar of non-racialized women. Young women are the critical ingredient to achieving gender equality in the workforce in our lifetimes. Investments in their ability to complete post-secondary education and compete for jobs in the future of work is critical to ensuring they aren’t left behind, and that Canada does not backslide on the progress we’ve made.

How concerned should we be? In the same Statistics Canada survey of students, 44 per cent were very or extremely concerned about their ability to keep up with their current expenses, nearly half (46 per cent) were concerned about their ability to pay next term’s tuition, and 43 per cent were concerned about paying for next term’s accommodations. Many students may have no choice but to drop out of school. Unfortunately, gender and other intersectional data was not made available for this survey.

One way to ensure students – and young women in particular – do not lose ground on their education is by ensuring the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) and Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) are not wound down before the services-producing sector, and in particular retail and accommodations/food services, are running closer to their previous capacity. As emergency benefits are phased out or restricted to certain sectors, it is important that young women and the sectors in which they work receive support in line with their vulnerability and the hit they have taken.

Secondly, to ensure young women are able to return to school – whether or not their employment has resumed – we need re-investments in student grant programs. Increasing the availability of loans is not sufficient, as women are disproportionately burdened with both loans and the challenge of repaying them. Women accounted for 60 per cent of Canada Student Loans recipients, and 66 per cent of those in the Repayment Assistance Program for those earning $25,000 or less after graduating. Investing in significant grants to students – and in particular, women – will help ensure young people do not fall further.

2. We need better data

We cannot afford to paint young women with one brush. We already understand how intersecting identities have led to different outcomes in our stronger, pre-pandemic economy. To build an equitable gender future in Canada, we need the best data. While the federal government has created a centre hosting statistics on gender, diversity and inclusion, it has yet to capture the full range intersections and margins of young women’s lives.

Civil society organizations, through their monitoring, evaluation and research programs, are the best positioned to collect stories and data about how marginalized youth and women are experiencing the economic shutdown. We need intersectional, disaggregated data that tell us about the experiences of LGBTQ and genderqueer womxn, Black, Indigenous and racialized young women and womxn, parental status and ability, and much more. We need to understand how, within cities, opportunities are distributed for youth. The international development sector has led the way for open-data partnerships, such as the Global Partnership on Open Data for Development. We’re calling for partnerships between civil society organizations and government to share data specific to how young women and genderqueer youth are experiencing this economic crisis, and to design recovery policies using the best information available.

3. We need young women at the table

Finally, to ensure the recovery includes young women and genderqueer youth, their experiences must be represented at the table. As government and civil society groups strike advisory committees and working groups (such as the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee, Toronto’s Recovery and Rebuild Strategy and others), it is vital that young women are included and able to advocate on behalf of those who have been shut out of the economy. G(irls)20’s Girls on Boards program is one national program that equips young women to enter these spaces. Youth-serving organizations can play a valuable role in identifying advocates and equipping them to be effective advocates for young women’s economic inclusion.


Conclusion

The hundreds of young women who applied to G(irls)20, like others across the country, have the opportunity to be part of the generation of workers who will achieve gender equality with the end of a pay gap, access to equitable leadership positions, and be able to start a family while doing so. Supporting them through this crisis will go a long way toward helping them achieve these dreams and creating an equitable Canada.

 

Thank you to Arman Hamidian for research support and Jacob Greenspon for help analyzing the data.

Bailey Greenspon is the Acting Co-CEO at G(irls)20, a Canada-based, global organization advancing the full participation of young women leaders in decision-making spaces to change the status quo.

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