Construction jobs help boost B.C. labour market in April

BC’s labour market had another solid showing in April.

Employment inched higher for a sixth straight month, rising 0.2% or 5,900 persons to 2.56 million and led by a full-time gain of 1.5% or nearly 30,000 positions.

On an industry basis, net gains were driven by a significant gain in construction employment (up 3.4% or 7,900 persons) and business/building/other support services (up 3.1% or 3,500 persons). In contrast, employment in health care and social assistance fell 1.7% (or 5,300 persons).

While monthly employment growth trailed the stronger countrywide increase of 0.6% – led by strong gains in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec – gains over the past year have been robust. Year-over-year employment growth in B.C. was 3.3% (82,100 persons), second only to Prince Edward Island, and above the impressive national gain of 2.3%.

The broad picture of the labour market remains strong. The unemployment rate came in at 4.6%, which was lowest among provinces. Second was Quebec at 4.9%, with a national rate of 5.7%. Labour force participation rates and employment as a share of the working-age population (employment rate) are at cycle highs and levels prior to the 2008-09 financial crisis. Strong labour demand is keeping more people employed and engaged in the labour force.

One dour data point is wages. Average hourly wage rates rose a scant 0.5% year-over-year and decelerated over the past year despite the tight labour market. That said, conditions point to a continued rise in wages.

B.C. housing starts continued to defy gravity in April. Despite a severe drag in home sales, starts posted the strongest performance in over a year. Total urban-area starts reached a seasonally adjusted annualized pace of 49,188 units. This was a 50% increase from March’s 32,500 units and was led by a sharp rebound in combined apartment and townhome starts.

Among B.C.’s metro areas, the surge was dominated by the Vancouver census metropolitan area, which broke from the 20,000-to-25,000-unit trend to a 34,200-unit pace in April. Much of last month’s gain was a coincidence of project start dates. Multi-family projects take years to plan, develop and pre-sell before breaking ground.

Year-to-date housing starts were unchanged from 2018 and broadly outperformed the rest of the country. Growth of multi-family starts has offset lower detached starts.

For now, this remains the curious case of new home construction that remains strong despite the sluggish resale market and rising home inventories.•

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