As provinces gradually restart economies, it's worth noting that unemployment can be deadly

    1 of 2 2 of 2

      Public health officials and the media are understandably alarmed by the rising death toll in long-term care homes in Canada.

      COVID-19 has hit with hurricane-like force, killing more than 4,000 Canadians, the vast majority of whom are elderly.

      In B.C., the outbreak at the Lynn Valley Care Centre is finally over after 20 people died. In Quebec, 70 percent of the deaths have been linked to seniors' homes.

      But there hasn't been nearly as much attention paid to another sad aspect of this pandemic—the rising death rate associated with unemployment.

      In Canada, more than a million people lost their jobs in March.

      B.C. shed 132,000 jobs in March as the provincial unemployment rate climbed from 5 to 7.2 percent. 

      The April numbers will come out on Friday (May 8). They will offer another grim reminder of the economic effects of the lockdown.

      In 2013, BCMC Public Health published a study examining the links from 1991 to 2001 between unemployment and cause-specific mortality for working-age Canadians.

      After examining a cohort of 888,000 men and 711,600 women, the researchers concluded that the age-adjusted hazard ratio was 1.37 for men and 1.27 for women.

      In other words, unemployed men were 37 percent more likely to die and unemployed women were 27 percent more likely to die than those who were employed.

      "The age-adjusted hazard ratio for unemployed men and women was elevated for all six causes of death: malignant neoplasms, circulatory diseases, respiratory diseases, alcohol-related diseases, accidents and violence, and all other causes," the paper states. "For unemployed men and women, hazard ratios for all-cause mortality were equivalently elevated in 1991–1996 and 1997–2001."

      The impact of unemployment on mortality rates went down with age, according to this paper.

      Andrew Ramlo posted this chart on May 5 during a rennie intelligence webinar about the economic impact of COVID-19.

      Another study published in the European Journal of Public Health in 2014 came to more troubling conclusions.

      It examined men and women between 25 and 54 who were working in 1991. Their status was documented in 2001 and the mortality risk of unemployment was estimated from 2001 to 2010.

      Unemployment was associated with an 85 percent higher chance of death for men, whereas it was 51 percent higher for women.

      "For men, the findings support the notion that the often-observed association between unemployment and mortality may contain a significant causal component; although for women, there is less support for this conclusion," the researchers wrote.

      The Canadian government is investing $275 billion to offset the effects of the economic lockdown.

      According to a rennie intelligence webinar hosted by Andrew Ramlo and Ryan Berlin on May 5, that amounts to $15,000 per employed person in Canada.

      Eventually, academics will be able to draw conclusions whether that was sufficient to keep more Canadians alive in the face of a sharply rising unemployment rate.

      But in the meantime, the media could do younger Canadians a favour by highlighting the relationship between unemployment and mortality—especially as provincial governments are gradually reopening their economies after a lockdown.