Calgary city councillor George Chahal in the Skyview Ranch community in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

Calgary city councillor George Chahal in the Skyview Ranch community in Calgary, Alta., Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh

A rural-urban divide: Data gives most detailed look yet at where CERB went

There still is a need in many areas for government aid like the federal recovery benefits

Kelly Ernst recalls standing on sidewalks, waving to needy families in Calgary’s northeast as they opened their doors to pick up food hampers.

Ernst, vice-president for vulnerable populations at Calgary’s Centre for Newcomers, said the memory speaks to how COVID-19 hurt the community, socially and economically.

Ernst said the Skyview Ranch neighbourhood is one of the most diverse in the country, with a high proportion of visible minorities and newcomers. Residents are often employed in precarious retail jobs or in warehouses, Ernst said. Others work at the city’s airport or in the municipal transit system, both of which were also affected by the pandemic.

“Some of the first people to be laid off during the downturn were people in these precarious jobs,” Ernst said, adding many were left looking for “some way to get through this whole thing.”

Almost seven in every 10 residents over age 15 in Skyview Ranch, received the Canada Emergency Response Benefit in the initial month that the pandemic aid was available, one of the highest concentrations among over 1,600 neighbourhoods The Canadian Press analyzed.

Federal data, obtained through the Access to Information Act, provides the most detailed picture yet of where billions of dollars in emergency aid went last year.

The data is broken down by the first three characters of postal codes, known as “forward sortation areas,” to determine the number of active recipients at any time anywhere in the country.

The Canadian Press used population counts from the 2016 census to calculate what percentage of the population over age 15 in each forward sortation area received the CERB in any four-week pay period.

Some forward sortation areas in the data from Employment and Social Development Canada were created after the 2016 census and weren’t included in the analysis.

Over its lifespan between late March and October of last year, the CERB paid out nearly $82 billion to 8.9 million people whose incomes crashed because they saw their hours slashed or lost their jobs entirely.

Some three million people lost their jobs in March and April as non-essential businesses were ordered closed, and 2.5 million more worked less than half their usual hours.

The data from Employment and Social Development Canada show that 6.5 million people received the $500-a-week CERB during the first four weeks it was available, or more than one in five Canadians over age 15.

What emerges from that initial wave is a largely rural-urban split, with higher proportions of populations relying on the CERB in cities compared to rural parts of the country.

Neighbourhoods in Brampton, Ont., on Toronto’s northwest edge, had the largest volume of CERB recipients with postal-code areas averaging over 15,160 recipients per four-week pay period.

CERB usage also appears higher in urban areas that had higher COVID-19 case counts, which was and remains the case in Calgary’s northeast.

“As cities relied more on accommodations, tourism and food as drivers of economic growth, the more they would have been sideswiped by the pandemic, and larger centres have a higher concentration of jobs in these areas,” said David Macdonald, senior economist at the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, who has studied the CERB.

“More rural areas of the country and certain cities that have a higher reliance on, say, natural resources wouldn’t have been hit as hard.”

In Skyview Ranch, census data says 12 per cent lived below the poverty line in 2016, and about three in 10 owners and four in 10 renters faced a housing affordability crunch, meaning they spent 30 per cent or more of their incomes on shelter.

Many live in multi-generational households, which the local city councillor said caused additional concerns about students and working adults spreading the virus to grandparents.

“These are real worries and challenges that members of my community have been facing throughout a pandemic,” said Coun. George Chahal.

“The CERB program and the additional support to small businesses was a huge relief for the fear with many folks in my ward.”

The CERB program paid out $500 per week for people whose incomes had fallen to nothing as a result of the pandemic. The federal Liberals amended the program in April to set a monthly income threshold of $1,000.

At the outset, there were 6,520 residents of Skyview Ranch on the CERB, about 69.4 per cent of the population 15 and up.

Then things improved. Businesses reopened and workers were rehired. The decline in the program’s use in Calgary’s northeast mirrored a nationwide drop in recipients overall, even though there were local increases here and there.

In all, there were 4.4 million recipients in the CERB’s second month, the biggest month-to-month change, 3.7 million in the third, and a steady decline to almost 2.3 million recipients by the time the CERB was replaced by a trio of new recovery benefits and a revamped and restarted employment-insurance system.

Over the lifetime of the CERB, the Ontario town of East Gwillimbury had the highest average number of residents accessing the program, at 24 per cent. The town with the lowest percentage was Winkler, Man., at 3.83 per cent.

In Skyview Ranch, the number of recipients in the last month of the CERB stood at 2,440, or about one-quarter of those over age 15.

There is still hardship in Skyview Ranch. The area has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases and incomes have dropped again as restrictions rolled in through December, part of a wider drop in the national labour market.

Chahal said there still is a need in the area for government aid like the federal recovery benefits.

“Maybe not for everybody,” he said, “but there are going to be a lot of folks who are going to be in need of assistance in the upcoming months as we move from this stage of the pandemic (and) into economic recovery.”

READ MORE: Some Canadians facing CERB clawbacks may not have to pay it back: Trudeau

—With files from Lucas Timmons and Meredith Omstead

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

International Women’s Day is March 8, 2021. (Internationalwomensday.com)
International Women’s Day 2021: #choosetochallenge

International Women’s Day is marked annually on March 8

Amanda Parsons, a registered nurse on staff at the Northwood Care facility, prepares a dose of the Moderna vaccine in Halifax on Monday, Jan. 11, 2021. Almost two in three Canadians surveyed recently said they trust COVID-19 vaccines to be both safe and effective. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan
Northern Health to open 30 COVID vaccine clinics for oldest residents, Indigenous seniors

Health authority says it plans to vaccinate nearly 15,000 people in Phase Two

First doses of COVID-19 vaccine will be available by appointment only from March 10 to 12 and March 15 to 19 from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at Bella Coola General Hospital (file photo)
COVID vaccinations open to Valley residents as of March 10

Starting today all residents of the Bella Coola Valley 18+ can book their vaccination appointments

Jovin Walkus and Alayah Mack enjoy the Centennial Pool in summer 2020. (Geneva Walkus photo)
CCRD receives more funding for Centennial Pool project

The total funding for the project is now over $4 million

Provincial funding in the amount of $300,000 has been announced for the Cariboo Regional District’s plans to improve the Anahim Lake Airport runway. (CRD photo)
$300,000 provincial funding to fuel Anahim Lake Airport runway upgrade

The recovery grant is one of 38 announced to support jobs in rural communities

(The Canadian Press)
‘Worse than Sept. 11, SARS and financial crisis combined’: Tourism industry in crisis

Travel services saw the biggest drop in active businesses with 31 per cent fewer firms operating

Montreal Canadiens right wing Paul Byron (41) fights for control of the puck with Vancouver Canucks defenceman Quinn Hughes (43) during first period NHL action in Vancouver, Monday, March 8, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Captain Clutch: Horvat nets shootout winner as Canucks edge Habs 2-1

Vancouver, Montreal tangle again on Wednesday

Cottonwoods Care Home in Kelowna. (Google Maps)
New COVID-19 outbreak at Kelowna care home includes fully vaccinated seniors: Henry

Two staff and 10 residents tested positive at Cottonwoods Care Centre

Excerpts from a conversation between Bria Fisher and the fake truLOCAL job. Fisher had signed a job agreement and was prepared to start work for what she thought was truLOCAL before she learned it was a scam. (Contributed)
B.C. woman warning others after losing $3,000 in job scam

Bria Fisher was hired by what she thought was a Canadian company, only to be out thousands

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry and Health Minister Adrian Dix provide a regular update on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, March 2, 2020. (B.C. government)
B.C.’s COVID-19 cases: 545 Saturday, 532 Sunday, 385 Monday

Focus on Prince Rupert, Lower Mainland large workplaces

Rising accident rates and payout costs have contributed to billion-dollar deficits at ICBC. (Comox Valley Record)
B.C. appealing decision keeping ICBC injury cases in court

David Eby vows to ‘clip wings’ of personal injury lawyers

(Black Press Media files)
Hosts charged, attendees facing COVID fines after Vancouver police bust party at condo

Police had previously received 10 complaints about that condo

Most Read