Women suffered more than 89 per cent of job losses recorded in Ontario’s real estate, rental and leasing sector last year. Newly released labour force data from the provincial Financial Accountability Office (FAO) shows that COVID-19 delivered a relatively glancing blow to men in real estate roles, who accounted for less than 0.5 per cent of the 355,300 jobs Ontario shed in 2020. In comparison, women were jettisoned from 14,300 of the roughly 16,000 positions the real estate sector trimmed, making up more than 4 per cent of the province’s newly unemployed.
That’s generally in keeping with reported trends across the entire labour force. Women absorbed 57 per cent of the layoffs in Ontario, translating to a 5.8 per cent drop from pre-pandemic employment levels, while men experienced a 3.9 per cent decline in employment.
The pace of recovery has also been slower for women. That’s most noticeable in the 15-to-24 age cohort, in which women were still 13.2 per cent below February 2020 employment levels at the end of year, while their male contemporaries were 2.2 per cent shy of the pre-pandemic count. Meanwhile, 49 per cent more women than men in the 25-to-54 age cohort — 104,900 versus 70,200 — simply exited the labour force last year.
“In particular, core-age (25-54) working mothers with children under the age of 18 faced greater labour market attachment challenges compared to fathers,” the FAO report states. “Nearly one-fifth of core-age mothers with children under the age of 18 were absent from work, more than twice the share of absence among fathers (9.1 per cent).”
Real estate is one of three sectors the FAO report highlights for the disproportionate gender split of layoffs. The others are: Information, Culture and Recreation, in which 27,800 women lost jobs, while 3,000 men were newly employed; and Services other than Public Administration, in which 16,400 women lost jobs and 2,700 additional men were hired.
The report notes “job losses among males and females were largely proportional” for Accommodation and Food Services — the hardest hit sector, which lost 110,700 jobs or nearly 25 per cent of its pre-pandemic workforce — and for Retail Trade, which shed 47,000 jobs, equating to a 5.6 per cent reduction in employment.
Beyond permanent job loss, the FAO report tallies more than 410,000 employees who experienced at least a 50 per cent reduction in working hours last year, equating to an estimated 9 per cent decrease across Ontario’s labour force. It also cautions that Ontario’s 9.6 per cent unemployment rate does not capture those who have dropped out of the labour force, and points to the shrinking labour force participation rate, which fell to 63.6 per cent from 64.9 per cent in 2019, for greater context.
“Combined, the total number of employees impacted by the pandemic was 765,340 in 2020,” the report states. “Ontario’s labour underutilization rate reached an unprecedented 22.1 per cent in 2020, meaning one in five workers were either unemployed, did not look for a job although they wanted one or worked fewer hours than they desired.”
Multidisciplinary reach employs talent from several job fields
Given its multidisciplinary reach, not all employment tied to commercial real estate is classified as directly in the Real Estate, Rental and Leasing sector. Five other overlapping fields offer a wider and more varied picture of COVID-19’s impact — ranging from the beleaguered Accommodation and Food Services sector to Finance and Insurance, which gained 32,700 jobs over the course of the year.
Construction — a sector in which men are the acknowledged vast majority — tallied 25,200 layoffs, representing 4.7 per cent of the pre-pandemic workforce. However, the FAO places much of that unemployment in the subset of self-employed individuals less likely to be working on major commercial development sites. (Province-wide, self-employed workers accounted for about 14 per cent of job losses versus 81 per cent with private sector employers and just 5 per cent in the public sector.)
Building operations personnel would presumably be classified among Business, Building and Other Support Services, which lost 17,700 jobs in 2020. The sector has been slower to recover, with year-end employment levels still more than 15 per cent below the pre-pandemic benchmark.
In contrast, a range of consultants and skilled trades contracted to the commercial real estate industry would fall into the Professional, Scientific and Technical Services sector. It recorded a more modest slip of 3,200 jobs or less than 1 per cent of new unemployment in Ontario.
Drilling down to commercial real estate asset types, retail job loss appears in sync with retail properties’ flagging investment returns. There’s perhaps more dissonance between the 38,200 lost jobs in the Transportation and Warehousing sector, representing 9.7 per cent of pre-pandemic employment, and current vibrant market dynamics for warehouse/distribution and logistics sites.