StatsCan study warns of Covid-19’s effects on freelancers

By James Langton | May 20, 2020 | Last updated on May 20, 2020
2 min read
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The devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on Canada’s workforce are likely understated as Canada’s growing army of freelancers and self-employed workers are not captured in traditional employment data, according to a new study from Statistics Canada.

Before the pandemic hit, about 10% of the Canadian workforce (1.7 million people) toiled in the so-called “gig economy,” StatsCan reported.

However, measuring the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on this substantial segment of of the Canadian labour force is difficult, the study said, because gig workers “cannot be identified in any of the main sources of employment data.”

As a result, their work loss “is not captured by standard employment or wage indicators,” the research noted.

Absent hard data, the study theorizes that the impact of the pandemic will vary significantly based on factors such as the age of affected gig workers and the type of work they do.

“For instance, gig income is not the main income source for pension age [gig workers], and its loss will likely be mitigated by the continuing receipt of pension benefits,” the study said.

“For young and prime working-age [gig workers], the income loss is likely to be far more consequential,” it noted.

Previous research has found that about half of gig workers generated all of their income from their freelance work, and the other half supplemented wages with gig work.

Gig workers who have no other source of employment income won’t qualify for EI benefits, the study noted — although workers who earned at least $5,000 in 2019 “should be eligible for Canada Emergency Response Benefits,” it said.

Additionally, the pandemic’s effects will vary by job type, the study said.

For example, workers who provide professional, scientific and technical services (about 19.0% of male gig workers and 17.4% of female gig workers) may still be able to work despite mandatory lockdowns, the study said.

Those who work in the arts and entertainment sector (8.2% of male and 7.2% of female gig workers), however, “may find it considerably more difficult to continue their business activities as social distancing is likely to remain in place for some time.”

Workers in service industries that require face-to-face interactions — such as Uber and Lyft drivers, retail workers, and cooks, cleaners and nannies — will also “have a harder time dealing with the economic fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic,” the study said.

There may also be longer-term impacts on the workforce and the economy, the study suggested.

In the wake of the global financial crisis, the gig economy grew rapidly, as many workers were “pushed” into self employment, it noted.

“Whether a similar trend will occur in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic will likely depend on the speed and intensity of the post-Covid-19 overall economic recovery,” the study concluded.

“Another important question is whether the current pandemic will facilitate the expansion of online platforms and crowdsourcing marketplaces, potentially leading to the increase in the size of the gig economy,” it said.

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James Langton

James is a senior reporter for and its sister publication, Investment Executive. He has been reporting on regulation, securities law, industry news and more since 1994.