In Brief: One-Year Update on Social and Economic Impacts of COVID-19

Vanier Institute’s In Brief Series: Mobilizing Research on Families in Canada

Diana Gerasimov

March 22, 2021

STUDY: Statistics Canada, “COVID-19 in Canada: A One-Year Update on Social and Economic Impacts,” StatCan COVID-19: Data to Insights for a Better Canada, Catalogue no. 11-631-x2021001 (March 11, 2021). Link:

COVID-19 has had major economic and social repercussions for families across Canada. However, as Anil Arora, Chief Statistician of Canada, writes in a recent overview of trends over the past year, “It has also shown our resilience and our ability to step up, to adapt, and to be innovative.”

Data collected over the past 12 months offer insight on how different sectors and population groups have reacted to, and been impacted by, the pandemic, public health measures and economic lockdowns.

Compliance of public health measures among Canadians remains steady

  • During the first half of the pandemic, 90% of Canadians took precautionary measures, such as mask-wearing and physical distancing.
  • By September 2020:
    • Over 95% of Canadians reported they were following recommendations, including handwashing, mask-wearing and social distancing.
    • 12% of Canadians reported experiencing symptoms related to COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic; among this group, 93% reported following public health recommendations.
  • Nearly 7 in 10 people (67%) said they avoided leaving the house for reasons they deemed non-essential.

COVID-19 vaccine distribution began December 13, 2020, with a focus on priority groups, including adults aged 80 years and older, health care workers and adults living in senior care. As of March 5, 2021, the share of people within these priority groups who had the first dose of the vaccine was 19%, 53% and 85%, respectively.

Despite growing vaccination efforts, fewer Canadians are very likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine

  • In July 2020, 58% of Canadians reported they were very likely to receive the vaccine; by September 2020, this number dropped to 48%.
  • 49% of Canadians reported a high unlikelihood of getting the vaccine.

Vaccinations critical in protecting health care, where visible minorities are overrepresented

Prior to the pandemic, visible minorities were overrepresented in occupations such as nurse aides, orderlies and patient service associates. This trend continued through the pandemic: in January 2021, 19% of employed Black Canadians and 20% of employed Filipino Canadians occupied a role in the social assistance and health care industry.

COVID-19 indirectly impacted health care and mental health

Due to all non-urgent surgeries being cancelled as a precaution of the pandemic, cancer screening programs were among the delayed. A cancer simulation model, OncoSim, demonstrates a projected rise of cancer cases, once screening restarts. A suspension of screenings could increase the number of advanced stage cases as well as the rate of cancer deaths.

As restrictions eased and schools reopened, the mental health of Canadians improved.

  • In November 2020, 62% of Canadians reported having excellent or very good mental health, up from 55% (July 2020) and close to pre-pandemic levels of 68% (2019).

Although the overall mental health of Canadians has improved as restrictions have eased, healthcare workers continue to experience decline in mental health.

  • 33% reported very good or excellent mental health and 33% reported fair or poor mental health.
  • 7 in 10 health care workers who participated in a crowdsourcing study reported worsening mental health during the pandemic.

COVID-19 has had unequal impacts in Canada

The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the unequal impacts of the pandemic.

  • Areas with the highest proportion (25% or more) of groups identified as visible minorities have a COVID-19 mortality rate of about two times higher than those with the lowest proportion (less than 1%).
  • By summer, 57% of surveyed Indigenous people living with chronic health conditions reported that the overall state of their health was “somewhat” or “much” worse than prior to the pandemic.
  • 64% of Indigenous people reported that their mental well-being was “much worse” or “somewhat worse.”

The disproportionate impacts of COVID-19 on Indigenous communities could intensify pre-existing inequalities. Prior to the pandemic, the unemployment rate among Indigenous individuals was 1.8 times higher than among non-Indigenous people, demonstrating long-lasting disparities within the labour market.

By December 2020, unemployment among Indigenous individuals was 3% to 4% higher than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

COVID-19 had multifaceted impacts on work and family finances

Despite easing restrictions of health measures during summer and fall, economic activity remained at levels lower than before the pandemic. Visible minority groups, Indigenous people, low-wage workers and young Canadians are among those unevenly affected by the economic impacts of COVID-19.

  • About 4 in 10 Canadian workers are in jobs that can plausibly be done from home.
  • At the end of 2020, 1.1 million workers were impacted by COVID-19 through employment losses or substantial reductions in hours worked.
  • In January 2021, the number of Canadians working from home rose by nearly 700,000 to 5.4 million, surpassing the 5.1 million who worked from home during the initial lockdowns in April 2020.
  • As of January 2021, 512,000 workers were experiencing long-term unemployment, about 27% of all unemployed people. This proportion stood below 16% prior to COVID-19.

Diana Gerasimov holds a bachelor’s degree from Concordia University in Communication and Cultural Studies.


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