indicatorThe Owl

Pandemic shines a light on precarious employment

It’s low-wage, low-skill jobs that will be most at risk as the next wave of technological change rolls over our economy and society

By ATB Economics 14 April 2021 2 min read

The pandemic has, like an earthquake revealing weaknesses along a fault line, highlighted a number of interrelated challenges. One of these challenges is the growing gap between those with high-paying jobs and excellent prospects and those with low-paying jobs and poor prospects.

An income gap has always existed in Canada, but the hope was that economic growth, technological advances, public education and robust social programs would shrink it, make it easier to jump across and make life better for everybody.

On the bright side, the grip of poverty has been loosened both here at home and around the world. Material wealth, education rates and access to advanced medical care have improved.

There is, however, a risk that we will start going backward rather than keep moving forward.

Concern has, for example, been raised about a growing segment of western society referred to as the “precariat.” According to British economist Guy Standing, people in the precariat are stuck doing “insecure forms of labour that are unlikely to assist them to build a desirable identity or a desirable career.”

The precariat experiences a “precariousness of residency, of labour and work and of social protection.” This concept overlaps with part-time employment, seasonal and migrant workers, the gig economy, the working poor, underemployment, temporary work and low income, but goes a step further: “It is not right to equate the precariat with the working poor or with just insecure employment, although these dimensions are correlated with it. The precariousness also implies a lack of a secure work-based identity, whereas workers in some low-income jobs may be building a career.”

When the COVID restrictions began in the spring of 2020, most parts of the economy were negatively affected in some way, but the job losses were concentrated among low-wage earners. The pandemic is a temporary problem and many of the low-wage jobs it eliminated will come back. But not all of them.

What’s more, it’s low-wage, low-skill jobs that will be most at risk as the next wave of technological change rolls over our economy and society.

These are not easy problems to solve, but it will help to pay careful attention to the fault lines underscored by the pandemic when it is finally over and things start to return to “normal.”

Answer to the previous trivia question: At 37,000 square metres, the biggest house in the world is Mumbai’s mega mansion named Antilia.

Today’s trivia question: According to the World Bank, what percentage of the global population lives on less than US$5.50 per day?

Precarious employment is on the rise around the world

Precarious employment is on the rise around the world

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