Occupations most at risk of being exposed to diseases
Some of the occupations most at risk of being exposed to diseases or infections are not surprising: respiratory therapists, nurses, and other front-line medical staff are on the top end of the graph. However, it is important to note that there are other non-healthcare workers who are highly exposed, including cleaners, bus drivers, and couriers.
Some occupations appear to be at high-risk, according to these measures, but their working conditions have significantly changed. For example, education workers including K-12 teachers and early childhood educators are ordinarily at a high-risk of being exposed to diseases or infections. However, most educational institutions in Canada have either closed or shifted to an online delivery model in response to this pandemic, characterizing how quickly work contexts are shifting. Many occupations are shifting their business models or partially closing: dentists are rescheduling non-emergency procedures, physiotherapists and other paramedical professions and bodyworkers such as personal trainers are offering online sessions, and many stores are launching or expanding their online sales and local deliveries.
However, there are many occupations where working remotely or working from home is not a possibility: cooks, cashiers, and emergency services, for example, still need to physically show up to their workplace. The impact of COVID-19 for such workers has varied greatly. Some businesses have shut down entirely, either laying off workers or keeping them on the payroll, with the support of work-sharing options and forthcoming federal wage subsidies. Others still need to show up to work every day, albeit often under new health and safety guidelines.
An occupational lens by itself does not perfectly measure the risks that different workers face from COVID-19, as not all workers who are exposed to the disease will face similar risks when contracting the disease. A full picture of worker risk would require looking at individual characteristics such as age and pre-existing conditions, as well as local work environments. The Public Health Agency of Canada has stated that older adults (65+) and individuals at all ages with pre-existing conditions, including respiratory disease, cardiac disease, diabetes, and compromised immune systems, are at higher risk if they contract COVID-19. We lack publicly available data on health conditions, however one aspect we can focus on is worker age. In Canada, there are more than 5.5 million workers over the age of 65 and many are in jobs that are high-risk and cannot be done from home. This includes 13% of bus/subway drivers and taxi/uber drivers and 12% of specialist physicians.
How COVID-19-related economic disruption is affecting different workers
The impact of COVID-19 does not just stop at health issues. For example, many low income workers have less savings and may be disproportionately impacted by changes or reductions to their income or employment status, putting them in further income and potentially housing precarity at a time when the public is strongly encouraged to stay indoors. Workers who have less secure jobs, particularly part-time workers, are also at risk of having their lives disrupted through COVID-19. Support from the federal government, including the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit and the wage subsidy for small and medium-sized businesses, is intended to help cushion these shocks to individual workers and their families who have lost work, while keeping businesses afloat.
Finally, other groups of workers, such as visible minority identities, may experience further challenges. Xenophobic sentiments relating to COVID-19 and directed at specific Asian communities are on the rise, particularly aimed at workers still operating in public. Many visible minorities work in occupations that are at high-risk of exposure to disease and that require physically showing up to work, such as home support workers, cleaners, general practitioners, and nurse aides. Such health and economic precarity could be compounded by other structural barriers these groups face, related to COVID-19 or not.
As of the launch of this data visualization, we are still at the early stages of this pandemic in Canada. There is much we do not know about the disease and how it will impact our economy and workers. However, we know that many workers are already finding themselves in precarious circumstances. In the first few weeks since social and physical distancing requirements were put into place, over 1 million Canadians applied for Employment Insurance and the federal government anticipates 4 million people will apply for the new Canada Emergency Response Benefit.
As this situation unfolds, the Brookfield Institute is shifting our thinking towards how policymakers can best support the millions of people living in Canada who are being adversely affected by this crisis. If you are interested in working with us, need our help, or would like us to highlight work that exists elsewhere, please reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org.