The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 triggered the introduction of public health measures that would close large sectors of the economy and send millions of workers home. In two short months, the unemployment rate reached 14.1 per cent—the highest level since 1936, in the midst of the Great Depression. In all, 2.7 million workers lost their job outright, while another 2.2 million lost all or half of their working hours. Many more would be affected in the months ahead as the economy recovered in fits and starts.
Canada, like countries around the world, quickly responded with a raft of income security tools and strategies to cope with the economic fallout. Programs such as the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and its successor programs.
There are few sources of information that document people’s experiences while on CERB. This research project has been designed to help fill this gap. Working with Abacus Data, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives conducted focus groups and an online survey of 1,500 Canadians to help better understand the program’s impact on recipients and to explore the role CERB played in shaping their decisions with respect to skills, education or training and the pursuit of new work opportunities during this period. The focus groupswere hosted in mid-September 2022 and the survey was fielded between Nov. 18 and 25, 2022. The focus groups surfaced and explored key issues for CERB recipients, information which, in turn, informed the content and design of our larger survey.
CERB and other emergency benefit programs have ended, but there is still much to learn about the experience and its impact given current economic stresses and the pressing imperative to ensure public programs are recession ready. The introduction of emergency pandemic benefits offers a unique opportunity to examine important questions about Canada’s current income security safety net and how it works (or does not) to support individuals in their efforts to achieve greater economic security and enhanced well-being.