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A new study by UM economists found that female workers and immigrants tend to work in occupations with more possibility of working remotely // Image: Pixabay

New paper sheds light on how Canadians are working right now

June 1, 2020 — 

Two University of Manitoba economists have completed a empirical analysis of the COVID-19 pandemic on the Canadian workplace and report that 41 per cent of Canadians can work from home, with significant variation across provinces, cities and industry.

“Social distancing” is costly since some jobs cannot be performed at home, says assistant professor Guillermo Gallacher and gradate student Iqbal Hossain. A key estimate to assess the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic is the percentage of jobs can be done remotely. Motivated by this, in their paper to be published forthcoming in the Canadian Public Policy journal, their focus was on the feasibility of working from home.

Higher wage jobs tend to be associated with jobs that can be more easily performed remotely. This would suggest that social-distancing is regressive, in the sense that poorer workers tend to work in jobs that that are more difficult of being performed remotely, the economists note. On a larger scale, the paper notes that Ontario has a high share of jobs that can be done at home (44%), and Newfoundland and Labrador has the least amount of jobs can be done at home, with 32%.

Further, the economists’ results suggest that female workers and immigrants tend to work in occupations with more possibility of working remotely. On the other hand, poorer workers, younger workers, part-time workers, small firm workers, seasonal/contractual workers, single workers and workers without a college degree tend to be employed in jobs that are less likely to be performed at home, the researchers found, noting that this in line with estimations from other countries.

They also find that workers in occupations less likely to be able to work remotely experienced larger employment losses between February and March but not between March and April. This suggests that the pandemic shock hit harder and sooner for those workers that could not work from home, the Faculty of Arts researchers note.

Future work with updated data could also extend and improve on these empirical findings. For instance, measuring the share of productivity or output (potentially produced remotely) instead of jobs seems important, the authors note. It will also be relevant to study the impact of policy, such as Canada’s CERB financial support.

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