The Covid Economy – One Year Later

As we reflect on the economic numbers for March 2021, we can begin to draw comparisons between where we are now compared to March 2020, when the Saskatchewan saw its first cases of Covid-19 and initial restrictions began.

The Employment Rollercoaster

Besides Covid-19 case numbers themselves, perhaps the clearest single indicator of the health of the economy continues to be employment. Regina’s unemployment rate for March sat at 8.8%, up from 7.7% in March of last year. However, it certainly has not been straight line from point A to point B, with unemployment peaking at 11.6% in June before falling to as low as 5.1% in November. All told, total employment in the Greater Regina Region was down -1,433 in March 2021 compared to March 2020.

Regina’s current unemployment is in line with other major Canadian cities like Calgary (10.2%), Saskatoon (8.6%), and Winnipeg (7.9%), though with the high risk of additional restrictions, it is likely that the unemployment rate across Canada may increase over the next month.

A Pandemic-Fueled Housing Boom
Another change we’ve seen over the past year is a consistent climb in housing prices. The Housing Price Index was $239,933 in March 2021, up from $224,000 a year earlier. This fits with a broad trend across the country, as low interest rates have encouraged house hunters to enter the market, creating a spike in demand.

At the same time, many homeowners working from home are reevaluating their residential needs (location may be less of a factor when your commute is down the hallway), adding to the high demand which builders are rushing to meet. February 2021 total year-to-date housing starts are up by 67 units or 77.9%, and construction employment is up by 500 positions from the same period in 2020.

Variants Vs. Vaccines
A low point in recent months has been the emergence of increasingly infectious Covid-19 variants. In total, 68.5% of total Variants of Concern (B.1.1.7 UK) in the province are within the GRA. It’s no secret that the variants have had a significant impact here, but there are signs that the curve is flattening.

Vaccine distribution in the region has been making progress. In the Regina Region, 33.1+% of the population has received one dose of the vaccine, with 3.5% of the population receiving their second dose (as of April 27, 2021). It is estimated that a 70% to 90% vaccination rate of the population is required to get an economy to fully open.

The Bottom Line
There is no doubt that this pandemic has dealt a lasting blow to the GRA economy since this time last year, particularly for the Visitor/Tourism Economy which typically generates an estimated $584 million in direct spending into our city. However, new investments like those recently announced by Viterra and Cargill will help to offset the long-term fallout and position the regional economy to roar back once it is able to fully reopen. Each day we get closer to widespread vaccine distribution, and that 70% to 90% rate that will allow us to return to “normal.”

So, continue to do your part. Stay home. Support local. Get vaccinated.