Using Peg for an Evidence-Based COVID-19 Recovery

COVID-19’s impact on Winnipeggers continues to unfold, affecting our health, jobs, and life at home. While a deluge of overlapping reports and data can be difficult to track, it’s important to have a comprehensive, evidence-based view of how the virus has hit our city so we can respond effectively. Peg’s indicators are an ideal starting point to understand how our city was doing before the pandemic, and to track Winnipeggers’ well-being as it continues to unfold.

As of July 7, 2020, the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority reports 232 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and seven deaths. The graph below shows Winnipeg’s caseload, disaggregated by sex.

Source: Government of Manitoba

Measures to curb the spread of COVID-19 have a widespread impact on our community. Many Winnipeggers shifted to working from home while the closure of non-essential businesses caused others to temporarily or permanently lose their jobs. Daycare closures and schools shifting to online classes resulted in unprecedented care responsibilities for parents. 

Unemployment in Winnipeg matches the unprecedented averages happening across Canada, reaching a record high of 11.4% in April, with over 37,000 unemployed Manitobans. Provincial data matches Winnipeg’s unemployment rates over this time; Statistics Canada reports Winnipeg’s unemployment rate at 11.6% in June 2020. Many Manitobans are still unemployed, including musicians and artists who will not be presenting Winnipeg’s beloved (and economically important) summer festival season. 

In May, the pandemic claimed 1 in 12 jobs, with young adults and women experiencing higher rates of job loss.  The graph below shows how employment loss has not been equal for all age groups across the province, with young Manitobans aged 20-29 most affected. Additionally, people earning the lowest wages — in sales and hospitality — were hardest hit in terms of job loss. Related, data from the Government of Canada shows that over a quarter of a million Manitobans applied for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB), and that over 45% of applicants are under the age of 34. It is important to note these employment statistics do not fully capture many Manitobans’ reality, including those not able to look for work with children at home, or those with slim job possibilities. Child care remains a major issue for parents who are expected to return to work before schools fully open.

Source: Statistics Canada

Even less clear is the longer-term impact of Winnipeggers’ well-being that will result from social and physical distancing, job loss, and the virus itself. Peg’s suite of indicators paint a picture of Winnipeggers’ well-being before COVID, and can show us how the pandemic impacts our community.

For example, Peg data shows how people’s housing needs shift over time. Winnipeg’s core housing need (measuring the number of households whose housing costs more than 30% of their income, requires major repairs, or is not big enough for their family) has increased from 10.3% of households in 2011 to 12.1% of households in 2016. An update on this data, expected  in 2021, will give us an idea of changes in people’s need for housing that happened over the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Food Bank Use, an indication of food insecurity, was declining in Winnipeg after a 15-year high in 2015. In 2017, 64,000 people received emergency food assistance. Winnipeg Harvest is currently addressing new realities in food bank use, managing volunteers who must physically distance themselves in their warehouse and shifting food security realities as more Winnipeggers are un- and under-employed. With evidence growing that COVID-19 will further exacerbate people’s food insecurity, how can the community support food banks while eliminating their need?

Winnipeg’s Market Basket Measure (the percentage of people earning a low income based on the cost of standard basket of goods and services.) was on the rise between 2016. Its latest measure in 2018, 10.2%, was higher than the national average of 8.7%. How will COVID-19 impact Winnipeg’s low-income population? Upcoming data on the market basket measure will help show how COVID-19 is impacting Winnipeggers who earn the least. 

Retail sales, an important indicator of a city’s financial health and consumer spending, have been increasing in Winnipeg. In 2019, retail sales reached CAD $13.4 billion, a 44% increase since 2008. How will the closure of many of Winnipeg’s small businesses impact retail sales figures in 2020 and thereafter? Which retail sectors will face the biggest challenges? 

Peg also includes data on charitable giving in our city, showing that Winnipeggers are more charitable than the average Canadian. In 2018, Winnipeggers made a median charitable donation of $120 higher than the national median amount. How will COVID-19 impact Winnipeggers’ donations — will it lead to higher donations to address higher needs, or will households be less likely to donate due to temporary job loss? How will this change impact our non-profit organizations, who depend on donations?

COVID-19-related closures will also affect Winnipeg neighbourhoods in different ways. The data included in Peg already shows vast disparities in life expectancy, educational outcomes and other variables, indicating inequality across our city. Data associated with Peg was used to inform the City of Winnipeg’s Higher Needs Assessment, which points out specific needs in neighbourhoods across our city to design targeted interventions associated with the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.

As many researchers have already noted, COVID-19 and associated responses have magnified inequality around the world, and our city is no exception. Many are urging policy makers to not only address the short-term impacts of COVID-19, but to “build back better,” reducing the underlying vulnerabilities that exposed our community to COVID-19. Moving forward, policymakers need good data to guide our recovery efforts at the federal, provincial and municipal level. Community-level data included in Peg has a strong role to play, providing a broad view of how the pandemic has hit our city and tracking both the intended and unintended results of COVID-19 and recovery efforts. In the long-term, Peg can be used as a source to track well-being, and ensure Winnipeg’s recovery is based on sound evidence.

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