indicatorThe Owl

Workers in COVID-19’s line of fire

Almost every nook and cranny of the economy will likely end up affected by the battle against COVID-19, but some sectors have already been hit hard by the pandemic’s initial salvos.

By ATB Economics 5 April 2020 2 min read

Almost every nook and cranny of the economy will likely end up affected by the battle against COVID-19 in one way or another, but some sectors have already been hit hard by the pandemic’s initial salvos. The jobs of millions of Canadians have become collateral damage of the containment effort while many other Canadians are on the front lines going to work everyday helping to save lives and maintain essential services.

While we wait for the first official statistics* showing the impact of COVID-19 on employment levels, it might be helpful to wrap our heads around the sheer number of people working in the epidemic’s direct line of fire.

Grocery stores staying open to make sure food is available provide one example. There were an estimated 45,873 people working for grocery stores in Alberta last year. If you add in specialty food stores and liquor stores, it comes to 59,714, many of whom are still going to work despite the epidemic.

Truckers are another example of workers helping to keep things on track during this crisis. Not everything that moves by truck is essential during a pandemic, but without truckers, food, medical supplies and all sorts of other critical products would not get where they need to be. There were 34,669 Albertans employed by trucking companies in 2019 (not including self-employed workers).  

From nurses and lab technicians to doctors and cleaners to home care workers and emergency shelter staff, the health care and social assistance sector is at ground zero of the epidemic. As of last year, there were almost 300,000 health care and social assistance workers in Alberta.

Then there are the sectors that have seen mass layoffs as businesses have had to shut down or reduce services in the face of containment efforts. 

Among these are the restaurants and bars that employed an estimated 131,806 Albertans last year. Not everyone in this sector has lost their job, but takeout and delivery options at some restaurants are simply not sufficient to keep everyone employed.

Other sectors that have had to lay people off include, but are not limited to, accommodation services (34,320 employees in 2019), clothing and clothing accessories stores (27,375 employees in 2019), and airlines (8,989 employees in 2019).

And with oil fetching bargain-basement prices, many of the over 140,000 direct oil and gas jobs in the province are also in jeopardy.

The federal Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy is intended to reduce the total number of layoffs, but we won’t know how effective it will be for some time.

*Statistics Canada will be releasing the March installment of the Labour Force Survey on Thursday, April 9. Some of the figures in today’s Owl are from the Labour Force Survey while others are from the Survey of Employment Payroll and Hours (which does not include self-employed workers, but has more specific job categories than the Labour Force Survey).

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A note on COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on the economy here in Alberta and around the world. The Owl will report on these impacts when good information is available while continuing to track regularly scheduled releases of economic data and long-term trends.

For additional information on COVID-19 and advice for the public, please visit Alberta Health Services. Please go to atb.com for COVID-19-related updates from ATB Financial.

There were an estimated 45,873 people working for grocery stores in Alberta last year.

There were an estimated 45,873 people working for grocery stores in Alberta last year.


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