The pandemic hasn’t been all bad for us. For some Canadians, it’s actually meant a bit of a financial boon.
That’s not to say there haven’t been massive job losses and income losses. It’s just that the losses have happened unequally.
The poorest and the youngest took the worst hit.
When think-tank Cardus analyzed the numbers, we found that 80 per cent of job losses from February to April – during the toughest parts of the economic lockdowns – happened among Canadians on the bottom half of the income ladder. Employment for those aged 20 to 24 fell by more than 31 per cent.
By contrast, those with higher incomes and older workers fared much better. While some suffered loss and continue to do so, these Canadians escaped the worst for the most part. They kept working and their incomes stayed steady.
But they also spent less during COVID-19 lockdowns. Think of all the things they didn’t buy: Restaurant meals, movie tickets, summer vacations – even public transit fare and parking costs.
In fact, during the first two months of pandemic lockdowns when the national economy came to a virtual halt, wealthier Canadians saved an estimated $5.3 billion.
Thankfully, some of that money will start flowing back into the economy as more businesses reopen and workplaces find ways of operating amid social distancing and other health requirements.
However, that money also creates a pool of cash that Canadians can partially redirect toward helping others. Those young and lower-income Canadians who lost jobs and saw paycheques disappear in the spring? They’re the ones who need help getting back on their feet now.
Enter the charitable sector.
Charities are society’s “shock absorbers when crisis hits,” as the president of Goodwill Industries has said. The pandemic crisis means we need that shock absorber more than ever.
Meals, grocery delivery, refugee resettlement, mental health, respite care, even taking care of the pets of cancer patients who are in hospital. Those are all things the charitable sector steps in to do. And Canadians’ need for that kind of help has increased even as charitable donations have shrunk.
Seven in 10 charities report lower revenues. As a whole, the sector has had to lay off 84,000 full- and part-time staff in Canada as a result.
So it’s time for Canadians with the capacity to step up and donate to their favourite charities. Imagine the difference it would make if even one-10th of the $5.3 billion saved during the early months of the pandemic found its way to the struggling charitable sector.
This, of course, creates an opportunity for the federal government to lead the way.
Canadians are already a generous lot but if the government agreed to match dollar-for-dollar the charitable donations Canadians make, it could help unleash that generosity in a big way.
We know such matching programs not only increase the likelihood of charitable donations by an average of 20 per cent, they also encourage the size of donations to grow.
And the giving also tends to last beyond the end of the matching program.
This, by the way, is why a coalition of charities called Canada Cares has been pushing for a matching program and is welcoming individual Canadians to raise their voices, too.
In the meantime, many Canadians have the capacity to give. They should do so.
It would create jobs, increase the charities’ capacity to help and make that help more available to those who’ve fared the worst during the pandemic.
And it would create a sense of social solidarity at a time of political polarization as Canadians stand shoulder to shoulder simply because they care for their neighbours.
So, yes, the pandemic has been good for some of us.
Through giving to charity, we can make it better for all of us.
Brian Dijkema is vice-president of external affairs at Cardus, which recently published The Potential to Give During the COVID-19 Pandemic.