COVID-19 Impact on Rural Employment: Ontario in the Canadian context (May 2020)

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COVID-19 Impact on Rural Employment Ontario in the Canadian context in May 2020

• In Ontario from April to May, 2020, rural employment has increased by 2.5% compared to a 0.6% increase in urban areas.
• However, if we compare May, 2020 in Ontario with the usual pattern for May, the usual rural seasonal increase did not occur in May, 2020 and the rural decline (-12.2%) was similar to the urban decline (-12.7%).
• For workers 25 to 54 years of age in Ontario’s rural and small town areas, males experienced a larger decline than females in the percent employed in May 2020 (compared to the usual pattern for May) than females.
• Based on three alternative ways of measuring the employment decline in rural and small town areas, the sectors with the largest declines were: retail and wholesale trade; information, culture and recreation; accommodation and food services; and transportation and warehousing.


The COVID-19 pandemic has forced governments to shutter many business activities and physical job sites.
The objective of this report is to document the COVID-19 impact on rural employment relative to the impact on urban employment as of May, 2020.


Most Focus on Rural Ontario factsheets use a metro vs non-metro classification to portray urban<>rural differences.
Appendix B does present results for metro and non-metro areas. Data for each month for this geographic breakdown is an average for the three previous months. For example, the published metro and non-metro data for May 2020 are an average for March 2020 and April 2020 and May 2020. Given that the March/April/May period were the months of workplace shutdowns due to COVID-19, the 3-month moving average data for May 2020 will show the full impact of the COVID-19 shutdowns but data for earlier or subsequent months would only partially register the full impact of the complete shutdown of many sectors during March / April / May 2020.

However, the Statistics Canada Labour Force Survey publishes monthly data for “Larger Urban Centres” (LUCs) and for “Rural and Small Town” (RST) areas. As defined in Appendix A, RST areas refer to residents outside centres of 10,000 or more. Thus, many towns and smaller cities (i.e., Census Agglomerations which have a population of 10,000 to 99,999, as listed in Appendix A) are not included in LUCs but are included in the non-metro classification that is typically used in this series of factsheets.


From April to May, 2020, employment in Ontario’s LUCs increased marginally by 0.6% while RST employment increased by 2.5% (Table 1).

When the May employment is compared to a “normal” (calculated as the average for May in 2017, 2018 and 2019), LUC employment is 12.7% lower and RST employment is 12.2% lower. By this measure, the impact of COVID-19 on RST employment is quite similar to the impact on employment in LUCs.

The difference in RST employment in May 2020, compared to February 2020 in Ontario is 32,000 jobs where Ontario is reporting the second-largest decline in RST employment, after Quebec (with a 107,000 job loss (Table 2).  As noted above, the RST employment in May 2020 is 12.2% below the average level of May (in the three previous years). By this measure, Ontario’s RST job decline ranks 6th among the provinces in Canada (Table 2). Alberta reports the largest RST employment decline at -20.7%.

Also above, we noted that Ontario’s employment decline in May (compared to the average for the three previous years) was similar in LUC and RST areas. In Quebec, the RST decline is 8 percentage points larger than LUC decline and thus, within Quebec, RST areas suffered a larger relative job loss (i.e. compared to their LUC areas) (Table 4).

The employment rate (i.e. the percent of the population that is employed) declined in Ontario for each age and sex group in both LUC and RST areas (Tables 5 and 6). In RST areas, individuals 15 to 24 recorded the largest decline in their employment rate followed by individuals 55 to 64 years of age. The smallest decline in employment rates occurred in the population 65 years of age and over.

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COVID-19 Impact on Rural Employment Ontario in the Canadian context in May 2020