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A huge chunk of Ontario’s essential workers are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19

A new report from MaRS reveals that seniors, immigrants and low-income earners — especially those in sales and service jobs — are at high risk of contracting COVID-19 and facing economic hardship.

A huge chunk of Ontario’s essential workers are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19

We already knew that Ontario’s essential workers were heroes, keeping society running. What’s been less acknowledged is that many front-liners represent some of the province’s most underserved populations.

A recent report from MaRS (the first in a series examining the adverse effects of COVID-19 on vulnerable Ontarians) reveals that essential workers, particularly those in the sales and service industries, are disproportionately made up of seniors, immigrants and low-income earners — people who already faced greater mental, physical and economic challenges before the coronavirus hit.

“It’s Ontarians’ duty to recognize the immense pressure we’ve placed on essential workers,” says Matthias Oschinski, lead executive of the data analytics team at MaRS. “With our COVID-19 studies, we’re hoping to inform targeted policies — like greater income support, as well as more protective gear and equipment — to better support our front-liners.”

Some of the report’s key findings:

  • 70 percent of sales or service workers (1 million people) have been deemed essential to the economy;
  • more than 500,000 people who are being asked to work through the pandemic make about minimum wage;
  • roughly 180,000 sales and service employees are aged 60 years and up;
  • 26,000 sales and service employees are neither citizens nor permanent residents;
  • 243,000 of Ontario’s sales and service workers come from low-income families;
  • nearly 350,000 sales and service people take public transit to work, while another 150,000 are driven to their jobs by someone else.

The data paints a stark picture of the front lines that exist beyond the walls of hospitals and clinics. Sales and service workers (retailers, cleaners, cooks, drivers, funeral directors and many more) are essential to Ontario’s economy and well-being. However, they are facing real risks — often without a strong support system.

“Most of these highlighted workers can’t afford to take time off work or are ineligible for social services,” Oschinski says. “And many of the older people are in an even higher risk category, tragic given the devastating news of Ontario’s long-term care homes. We need to act now.”

To learn more about this issue, read the full MaRS report