A sign for help wanted is pictured in a business window in Ottawa on Tuesday, July 12, 2022. A new census release from Statistics Canada Wednesday is expected to shed light on the changing dynamics of the Canadian labour force as well as how people got to work last year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

New census data shows how commuting dropped during pandemic, labour force aging

Statistics Canada says there were 2.8 million fewer commuters in 2021 than in 2016, as the pandemic drove a shift toward remote work.

In a new census release, the federal agency says COVID-19 altered commuting patterns for Canadian workers with fewer people driving, taking transit or walking and bicycling in 2021 compared to five years before.

With fewer cars on the road, commute times also fell. StatCan notes that commute times are now rising again, though commutes are still faster than they were in 2016.

Given the impact of the pandemic on remote work and commuting, StatCan also compared the 2021 data with updated numbers from this spring. That showed that by May 2022, the number of people driving to work was back to 2016 levels.

The number of people taking public transit was still lower than it was six years ago, making up just 7.7 per cent of all workers.

A million Canadians took transit to work in 2021, which is less than the 1.2 million who took the train or bus when the data was first collected in 1996 and almost 50 per cent lower than it was in 2016.

By May 2021, most transit routes were operating normally with public health measures in effect, including mask mandates on trains and buses.

Statistics Canada has also published a report on how the labour force evolved last year as the overall population ages.

The labour force participation rate has fallen each census year since 2006 because of the aging of the baby boomer generation.

“Given the importance of demographic changes to economic growth, there will be continued focus on the extent to which immigration can mitigate the effects of population aging,” the report said.

Between 2016 and 2021, 1.3 million immigrants were admitted to Canada, more than during any previous five-year period.

Experts have long raised concerns that immigrants are sometimes underutilized in the labour market.

However, the report found that the unemployment gap for recent immigrants is narrowing. In 2021, there was a 3.2 percentage-point gap in the unemployment rates of recent immigrants compared to other workers. That’s down from five percentage points in 2016.

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