Employment among child-care workers was 21 per cent lower in February 2021 than it was before the COVID-19 pandemic in February 2020, Statistics Canada says in a new study.
In the study, "Insights on Canadian Society, Child care workers in Canada," Statistics Canada says the decline in child-care work was steeper than the decline in employment in general in Canada in the same time frame. The study was released on Friday.
Researchers argue that child care is among the occupations "disproportionately affected" by the pandemic. Experts, meanwhile, say they aren't surprised by the findings and they worry child-care workers who left the sector may not come back.
"As schools and child care centres started to close following the implementation of public health measures, employment among child care workers fell by 21 per cent in March 2020. This was followed by a decline of 19 per cent in April," the study says.
"Employment started rebounding in June 2020 because of the easing of restrictions, and this continued until the end of the year. The trend reversed in January 2021 and, by February, employment among child care workers was 21 per cent lower than before the pandemic in February 2020.
"For Canada as a whole, employment was three per cent lower during the same time period."
The study notes that 96 per cent of child-care workers are female and are somewhat younger on average than the rest of the working population. About one in four have a college diploma. and according to the 2016 census, about one-third are immigrants or non-permanent residents, while they represent one-quarter of workers in other occupations.
The 2019 Labour Force Survey found that nearly 302,000 people worked in child care in Canada, making up 1.8 per cent of the total working population.
Fewer children enrolled in child care, economist says
David Macdonald, an economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in Toronto, said the drop in employment is not surprising.
"It's part of a longer trend of data that's been coming in over the course of COVID-19 and it's likely closely linked to the big decline in enrolment that child-care centres and family home sites are seeing," Macdonald said.
"There are just a lot fewer kids in child care now than they were pre-pandemic. As a result, what we're likely seeing is workers being laid off because there are just fewer kids in care."
Macdonald said the steepest drop in enrolment, in some cases up to 50 per cent, is appearing at child-care centres where fees are highest.
"The real concern, I think, is for the workers themselves and whether they will return to those jobs," he said. "Over the course of the pandemic, if you've been laid off once or twice, it may not be surprising if these workers look for other work."
He predicted that many workers may not return to the sector and it could be a "real drag" on economic recovery following the pandemic.
Workers stressed and burned out, association head says
Alana Powell, executive co-ordinator of the Association of Early Childhood Educators of Ontario, said the work doesn't pay well enough given the responsibilities involved. The study also looks at income for child care workers. Data from 2015 shows the workers made less than half of the average national income or $24,100 annually.
"Educators are feeling very stressed and very burned out," Powell said.
"Low wages, lack of full compensation packages, challenging work environments — really, it's about a lack of decent work," she said.
Powell said child-care workers need proper support and compensation if they are going to return to the sector.
Earlier this year, the federal government promised a $30 billion investment in a national child care program that would drive costs down to $10 per day. According to federal budget data, the seven highest median costs for daycare in all of Canada are all in the Greater Toronto Area.
Caitlin Clark, spokesperson for Education Minister Stephen Lecce, said in an email on Saturday that the Ontario government has invested more than $2 billion in its early years and child care programs this year.
"Our government values the dedicated child care workers across the province, including registered early childhood educators, and recognizes their hard work on the front-lines of this pandemic, helping to support children in the early years and to keep them safe," Clark said in the email.
"Ontario has worked with our sector partners over the course of the pandemic to keep child care safe for children and for workers and to keep the sector sustainable," she continued.
Clark said more than 95 per cent of the sector has reopened. The province has also continued what it calls the provincial child care worker wage enhancement grant, which provides eligible workers with additional dollars per hour, plus benefits on top of their base wage.