Good morning, Mr. Chair. I thank you and the members of the committee for the opportunity to join you today.
As context for my statement, I am a labour economist. My research and teaching involve income support programs, the experience of women in the labour market, retirement decisions and the relationship between work and health.
Today I will focus on two related items. First, I will discuss the medium-term policy response needed over the next few months with concern for that part of the workforce bearing the brunt of the COVID-19 shutdown. Second, I will discuss long-term investments needed to strengthen our caregiving infrastructure in the interest of coming out of this recession with better support for Canada's long-term economic growth.
On the first point, I hope the April job numbers represent the depth of the COVID-19 impact on the loss of paid work. Moving forward, we need to think about the duration of joblessness and where jobless durations will be the most severe. I expect those who first lost paid work in COVID-19 shutdowns will also be the last to return to paid work. Those losses were predominantly experienced by women in public-facing jobs. Moreover, those losses were felt by those with the lowest wages, the lowest seniority, with hourly paid work, and by often the youngest workers.
As provinces move to reopen, we expect some industries to recover quickly. For example, I do not anticipate the April losses in manufacturing and construction to persist. Some services will rebound partially as health and safety requirements will prevent full reopening. Other services will struggle to find sufficient demand for reopening until customers feel confident with regard to their own health and their own financial security. Ultimately, this means some sectors will be delayed in offering paid work to former employees. Of course, some paid work will never rebound. Some jobs are gone. I don't expect a full recovery to come quickly.
For the jobs that become available, decisions to return to work are not always simple. First and foremost, workers must trust their employers to offer safe working conditions and will need to find safe transportation. With significant workplace outbreaks in mind, people will weigh the risk posed to themselves and ultimately to their families when deciding if it is worth taking a job.
Second, many families will have to find ways to manage their caregiving roles, whether that is child care, elder care or caring for other family members unable to care for themselves. We know this work falls primarily to women. With this in mind, we need to ensure policy in the coming months is designed to offer continued support to those unable to return to work when the CERB benefits run out. For some, this may happen in July. Support could come in a form similar to EI, while recognizing EI's coverage gaps, and be paired with services that support job searches and training for those permanently displaced. That training could focus on moving many women from low-paid work in female-dominated occupations to higher-paid work in comparably skilled, male-dominated occupations.
Income supports need to be designed with partial return to work in mind. Allowances for partial returns will facilitate the sharing of caregiving responsibilities across family members, allowing both mom and dad, for example, to take some time away from work to juggle kids' schedules rather than mom having to take the full departure.
Current CERB structures do not facilitate this type of transition. This brings me to the second item I will discuss today. I think the impact of the crisis on women and their work, both paid and unpaid, has made it clear to more people that our caregiving infrastructure is inadequate. We need to build modern, efficient and reliable infrastructure to manage this part of our economy if we want to see further productivity gains and speed up our recovery.
What do I mean by infrastructure? After previous recessions, we promoted shovel-ready infrastructure projects like road building to help stimulate the economy. Roads are part of our transportation infrastructure allowing us to more easily get people to work and move goods to market, trading beyond our own communities. No single individual or firm would build this infrastructure independently because individual benefits are not large enough to incentivize their construction. We build the roads with public funds precisely because it supports the entire economy and promotes economic growth. We then hire people, train them and pay them well to maintain that infrastructure. It is a large, long-term investment with ongoing costs that supports a well-functioning economy.
Historically, Canadian caregiving infrastructure was designed as a highly decentralized system. Individuals, mostly women, were responsible for providing care to family members and neighbours unable to care for themselves. This was done at a very high cost. Economists agree that opportunity costs are just as important as any other, and forgone wages for each person involved in caregiving quickly add up. With no training for many caregivers, many vulnerable people lack sufficient care. Those without family members available to help would simply go without.
Today we have built a small system for caregiving, the scale of which varies by province, but it remains highly decentralized and continues to constrain the work opportunities of many women. We can do better.
With serious investments in child care and long-term care centres we can assure a stable and reliable network of caregivers. This would allow those previously constrained by caregiving responsibilities to specialize where they are most productive, whether that is in a caregiving field or other field of work.
A shift towards specialization in each person's field of comparative advantage, combined with potential economies of scale, would boost Canadian productivity of labour and ultimately of economic growth.
I do not pretend this is a small investment. It's huge, but the current cost of our decentralized, inefficient and often substandard caregiving system is also huge. We need to fully recognize the costs associated with that system.
I also do not pretend this is simple, but I think that building this infrastructure with our provinces, territories and indigenous communities is worth the effort.
I thank you for your time and would appreciate any questions from the members.