B.C. employment keeps climbing

According to Statistics Canada’s February Labour Force Survey data, employment in B.C. rose 0.1% or 3,700 to 2,574,000 persons, with gains in full-time and part-time positions.

While growth was insignificant, momentum has been positive. This was a fourth straight monthly increase and the seventh in eight months.

Year-over-year, employment rose 2.8%, which was the second strongest among provinces and exceeded the national gain of 2%. The Vancouver census metropolitan area outperformed the rest of B.C. as employment rose 0.6% from January and 3.1% year-over-year.

Among sectors, there were few significant changes. Employment fell significantly in construction and the professional, scientific and technical services sector, while health care and social assistance and information, culture and recreation generated offsetting gains. Year-over-year, service sectors have lifted growth with gains in technology and professional services, tourism and transportation and warehousing.

Labour shortages remain pervasive. The unemployment rate fell to 4.5% from 4.7% and remained the lowest among provinces. B.C. employers are relying on population growth at this stage to meet hiring needs, given elevated participation rates. 

The Lower Mainland housing market, meanwhile, remained in hibernation as February’s blanket of snow suffocated any chance of a rebound. Multiple Listing Service sales in the combined Metro Vancouver and Abbotsford-Mission area reached 2,436 units, down 31.5% year-over-year. The total represented the fewest February sales since 2012.

Seasonally adjusted, monthly sales deteriorated on fewer townhome and apartment sales. Total sales edged below the previous cycle low observed in 2012. That said, we should be cautious in interpreting this latest dip, given abnormally cold weather. New listings activity also fell significantly in February.

Nevertheless, the market remains weak as sales remain low due to federal mortgage stress tests and various provincial tax measures. Adding to this is negative market sentiment, with eroding prices pushing some prospective buyers to the sidelines. Many sellers are unwilling to significantly lower prices to meet expectations, given the downturn is largely policy-induced, rather than the result of economic stress.•

Bryan Yu is deputy chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.