Canada is facing the spectre of “the greatest rise in inequality on record” as investors’ portfolios soar in value while hundreds of thousands of people join the ranks of the unemployed, anti-poverty group Oxfam Canada says in a new report.
The country’s 44 billionaires ― as listed by Forbes magazine ― have collectively added $63.5 billion in wealth since stock and bond markets began recovering in March of 2020, Oxfam found.
Worldwide, the ultra-rich have recovered from the pandemic’s economic shock, Oxfam said, but for the world’s poor, the group estimates recovery will take a decade.
Canadians at the lower end of the economic ladder are facing a major challenge to their wealth, with employment in Canada down by 636,000 jobs since the pandemic began, and another 488,000 people working less than half their usual hours, according to Statistics Canada.
Watch: Pandemic widens gap between rich and poor. Story continues below.
In a recent report, economists at CIBC found one in five lower-income jobs in Canada had disappeared over the past year, while the country added almost 350,000 higher-income jobs at the same time.
“Women and marginalized racial and ethnic groups are bearing the brunt of this crisis,” said Diana Sarosi, director of policy and campaigns for Oxfam Canada.
“They are more likely to be pushed into poverty, go hungry or be excluded from healthcare. And yet, they are more likely to work frontline jobs that increase their exposure to the virus.”
Oxfam is calling for countries around the world to institute an emergency one-per-cent “excess profit” tax, an idea Canada’s New Democratic Party has also championed.
If it was levied on just the 32 global corporations that saw the largest profit increase amid the pandemic, Oxfam says it would have raised US$104 billion (C$132 billion) in 2020. That would be enough to cover pandemic unemployment benefits and child support in all lower- and middle-income countries, or nearly enough to cover the European Union’s aid to the unemployed, the group said.
Canada isn’t faring quite as badly as some other countries, Sarosi said, but it stands out in a bad way on sick leave policies.
Only two provinces ― Quebec and Prince Edward Island ― had mandatory sick leave days for workers prior to emergency measures put in place during the pandemic, though many employers offered some number of paid sick days.
The federal government introduced a Canada Sickness Recovery Benefit (CSRB) last fall, offering $500 per week for up to two weeks, but some health agencies said that’s not enough on its own to make a difference, as it pays less than a full-time minimum wage job and doesn’t address job security issues for workers who take time off.
Growing gender gap
Sarosi is particularly concerned about a growing gender gap in the pandemic, noting women ― and disproportionately women of color and those with disabilities ― are taking the brunt of the economic hit. She notes 70 per cent of the job losses in the pandemic have been among women, largely because they were concentrated in the low-wage industries that got hit hardest.
She says reforming Canada’s child care industry should be a major part of the reforms, noting that women, in particular, were thrust into new caregiver roles during the pandemic.
“Child care was unaffordable for families before the crisis hit, and now it’s even worse,” she told HuffPost Canada.
“In European countries, women have access to affordable child care and here it’s just completely left to market forces.”
Quebec’s subsidized child care model is one Canada could emulate, Sarosi said. The program, which costs parents between $7.30 and $20 per day, has been lauded by policy experts who say it’s the reason why a higher share of women in Quebec are in the workforce, compared to other provinces.
“It really is an investment. All the money that has been put in the system has been recuperated through increased tax revenue so the system paid for itself,” Sarosi said.