By Jack Mintz, November 4, 2021
Last week, while my wife and I were shopping at the nearby Canadian Tire store, a salesman approached us to sign us up for the store’s credit card. While discussing discounts, we learned that he was 69 years old and had recently been laid off by his previous employer. Showing us pictures of his grandchildren, he explained how he had taken on a low-paying job to start re-building his life.
Many of us have heard about seniors laid off in the pandemic. The numbers speak for themselves. As of September, the country’s unemployment rate stood at 6.9 per cent, with 1.42 million Canadians unemployed. Of that total, 320,000 (22.6 per cent) were over the age of 55, while about one-quarter of those 320,000 were over 65.
Historically, unemployment rates for seniors have been lower than for the rest of the working population: employers hold on to older workers, valuing their experience. With the pandemic, however, that seems no longer the case. Between January 2020 and September 2021, unemployment among seniors increased by 100,000, leading to a sharp increase in their unemployment rate, from 4.8 per cent to 7.2 per cent, which is now higher than for the broader population. And that’s probably an underestimate because of disguised unemployment, with almost 70,000 seniors having shifted from permanent to temporary, contract or seasonal jobs.
While the pandemic was hard on many parts of the workforce, seniors took it on the chin. The youth unemployment rate (for workers between 15 and 24 years of age) is traditionally higher than the overall rate but through the pandemic it has risen only 0.9 percentage points, to 11.3 per cent. Unlike seniors, however, whose participation in the work force declined by almost a full point, much of the increase in youth unemployment has resulted from more young people being willing to work, which is not a bad thing at all.