Alberta’s recovery plan will do little for women facing a “she-cession”
Covid-19 has had an unprecedented impact on the economy, and the International Monetary Fund predicts the Canadian economy to shrink by 8.4% in 2020. The effects of the largest economic recession since The Great Depression, however, have hit women particularly hard.
The pandemic has created a so-called “she-cession” that has impacted women broadly in three ways: first, the burden of unpaid childcare was placed on women as daycares and schools closed; second, female-dominated sectors such as the service and retail sector have been particularly hard hit; and lastly retreating indoors has resulted in an uptick in domestic violence cases.
Slowly economies across Canada are opening up to a “new normal” and releasing recovery plans to assuage the anxieties of people of what working and living with a pandemic will look like. So when Alberta Premier, Jason Kenney, revealed the province’s economic recovery plan, it was disappointing to see how the plan largely omitted a gendered approach to rebuilding in a way that would support the most vulnerable.
One of the main criticisms the plan has received so far is that it essentially doubles down on trickle down economics by cutting corporate taxes to create more jobs, a correlation that has been debunked time and again, most recently in Alberta itself. The plan includes significant infrastructure funding, with $10 billion earmarked to build roads, bridges, etc. While this may help stimulate the economy, it will disproportionately benefit men rather than women who were already underrepresented in the industry before the pandemic.
Pre-Covid-19, women barely made up 28% of the manufacturing labour force, a figure that has been stagnant for 30 years. This figure dropped to 27% by mid-May due to closing of schools and daycares, and women staying at home to care of children. One of the six recommendations of YWCA’s in Alberta to the recovery council, which only included three women in a panel of 12, was to assemble a child-care task force to create an accessible, affordable and safe child-care system. Not only does this sector largely employ women, who have been affected by their closures, but closure of daycares puts the burden of child care at home disproportionately on women. Compared to men, women in the province do nearly double the amount of unpaid child care work in one day – 3.8 hours for women to 1.8 for men. The plan does allocate $18 million to child care supporters to be slowly phased out, but is limited when compared to the billion dollar tax cuts for corporations.
According to Statistics Canada’s Labour Force report for June, increase in employment was unequal between men and women – men’s employment rose by 2.7%, compared to 2.5% for women – and acknowledged that men were recovering faster from Covid-19 employment losses than women. Also, the percentage of people who could potentially work, but are not, has been higher for women since February at 28.3%, compared to 25.5% for men.
Another recommendation by YWCA included making permanent pay-tops for frontline workers who work with persons with disabilities, seniors and those experiencing domestic violence and/or homelessness. Healthcare and the social assistance sector is the largest employer after trades in Alberta and women make up 87% of its labour force.
Lastly, Bill 32, Kenney’s most recent legislation, restricts workers’ rights in order to boost corporate profits in a variety of ways, making it easier for corporations to cut overtime pay, vacation pay and weakening unions. Women are often among the most vulnerable workers, especially those who are racialized.
During particularly uncertain times, the most vulnerable groups are at risk of being further marginalized. Though Alberta’s recovery plan does earmark dollars for child care providers, it largely misses the mark in creating incentives for women to return to work, and supporting them with extra dollars for risking their lives during the pandemic. Instead the plan cuts so-called red tape for corporations at the expense of working people, particularly women.