The number of rural Ontarians working in January dropped 2.7 per cent from recent averages as the second COVID-19 lockdown clobbered retail, food services and recreation jobs in small towns, new figures show.
About 16,000 fewer people were employed last month in small towns and rural Ontario compared to averages over the last three years, according to a report from the Rural Ontario Institute.
“There was some backsliding in what had been a story of recovery,” said Norman Ragetlie, the institute’s executive director. “January numbers showed a drop . . . that’s pretty significant for one month, and that represents another lockdown.”
The figures are even worse in some of the hardest-hit sectors:
• Accommodation and food services shed 12,000 workers, dropping 46 per cent from typical job numbers.
• The number employed in information, culture and recreation fell by 11,000, down 81 per cent from previous averages.
• Retail and wholesale trade saw 8,000 fewer people employed than normal.
These losses were offset by gains in other industries:
• Construction in rural Ontario added 11,000 jobs.
• Finance, insurance and real estate was up by 6,000 jobs
• Utilities added 5,000 workers; and health care and social assistance showed a 4,000-job rise.
The mix of losses and gains could speak to workers seeking employment in other sectors, Ragetlie said.
“While there’s cause for concern, obviously from an economic perspective and more people out of work . . . hopefully, there’s adjustments in the labour market,” he said.
Rural Ontario’s 2.7 per cent dip in people working is less than the gap in large urban centres that saw the number of people employed drop by 5.7 per cent, or 345,000 people, in January.
The Rural Ontario Institute is a Guelph-based think-tank that advocates for and offers programs to rural areas of the province.
In the report, which pulls data from Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey, rural and small towns refer to places with a population of up to 10,000.
Women continue to bear the brunt of job losses in rural areas, a consistent trend since the pandemic began.
In January, the number of women working in small towns dropped 9.3 per cent, while the number of men working rose 3.1 per cent.
Ragetlie said that could reflect hardest-hit industries having a higher proportion of women employees, along with impacts of school closings and child-care issues.
Rural employment had been steadily rebounding since last spring’s initial COVID-19 lockdowns that devastated the economy and at its peak in May saw small-torn employment down 9.8 per cent.
That rebound began to decline in November as COVID cases spiked, and with the second lockdown only just lifting, Ragetlie said job losses could continue.
“In terms of the arc of the storyline here, there was a major drop off, a slow recovery, and now another dip, and we’ll have to see,” he said. “We were locked down until recently in Ontario, and I would expect that the February numbers will still reflect that and may even be worse.”
The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada
Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press