Survey finds some optimism for future with permanent layoffs still limited
Thursday, April 23, 2020
The Windsor Star/Dave Waddell
Despite the chokehold COVID-19 has on the economy, which has resulted in massive layoffs, a workers’ survey of 16 Southwestern Ontario counties found only four per cent of those layoffs are permanent at this stage.
The survey of 2,568 residents between March 27 and April 17 was conducted jointly by seven workforce development agencies covering a region stretching from Essex County to the Bruce Peninsula.
“I was pleasantly surprised at the permanent layoffs figure given the large number of layoffs we’ve seen,” said Workforce WindsorEssex CEO Justin Falconer, whose agency crafted the survey.
“There’s some devastating layoff numbers out there, but the fact they’re not permanent layoffs yet, explains why over 60 per cent of those surveyed felt they’d continue to find work in the post-pandemic period. More than 50 per cent of workers felt their communities would be stronger after this experience.
“There’s a quiet sense of optimism there.”
In Windsor Essex, 3.67 per cent of people reported being laid off permanently while Chatham-Kent had 4.42 per cent, the London region 3.41 per cent, Sarnia Lambton 3.28 per cent and the Brantford region 4.68 per cent.
Project co-ordinator and researcher at Workforce WindsorEssex Julian Villafuerte added that businesses opting for temporary layoffs would aid the recovery period.
“It might mean if we can keep enough people in place and businesses afloat in the short term, the economic impact might not be as devastating in the long run,” Villafuerte said.
“Less than five per cent of businesses in Windsor are permanently shut down. People are showing more confidence than expected.”
The hardest hit sectors for layoffs are retail, hospitality and manufacturing with combined temporary and permanent layoffs being about 60 per cent in all three.
The 18-to-24-year-old age group has suffered the most layoffs. Over half of youth-aged workers have been handed pink slips with the highest percentage of permanent layoffs also coming in that age group.
“As a working group, that age has less experience and holds fewer key positions when companies are making difficult decisions,” Falconer said. “In unionized workplaces, the younger workers are often the most recent hires, so they’re the first to be let go.”
Also, many younger workers are employed in the hard-hit retail, restaurant and hospitality sectors.
The shared experience of the pandemic is reflected in the consistency of responses.
The top three worries of respondents were paying monthly bills, mortgage/rent payments and food security.
On government programs and the need for further actions, the responses were consistent across all 16 counties.
The Canada Emergency Response Benefit and increasing access to Employment Insurance are the most popular actions the government has taken, according to respondents.
In Windsor-Essex, the percentage of respondents supporting even more new financial support programs is 62 per cent with equally strong support in Sarnia (61), London (58), Brantford (63) and Chatham Kent (53).
Action on the financial file isn’t the only thing Ontarians want to see from governments. They also support bolder COVID-19 containment measures.
On a sliding scale of 0 to 100, the average response for stricter measures was ranked at 76.
“The majority want the government to become more aggressive in containing COVID-19,” Villafuerte said.
“Americans are fighting restrictive measures, but Canadians are OK with stronger restrictions.”
The survey data will be combined with other studies done by business, economic development organizations and municipalities to help start planning for the post-pandemic period.
“Planning for what Windsor-Essex is going to look like in the next 12 to 24 months is the next step,” Falconer said.