Job market continues its sluggish recovery

Labour market conditions in B.C. improved in August but the pace of recovery disappointed.

Employment increased 0.6% to 2.389 million persons, compared to 3% in July and 5.4% in May. Metro Vancouver lagged behind the rest of B.C. with a decline of 0.2%. While further narrowing the employment gap from February, B.C. employment was still 5.9% below February and 6.6% below a year ago.

The unemployment rate edged lower to 10.7% from 11.1% in July. Metro Vancouver’s rate came in at 12.4%.

Among sectors, growth was concentrated in goods-producing sectors (up 4.6%), while services-producing sectors fell 0.3%. The latter experienced mixed performances with sharp declines in information/culture/recreation (down 6.1%) and professional/scientific/technical services (down 4.6%). In contrast, personal services rose 11%, accommodations/foodservices gained 3.7% and business support services rose 4.1%.

While improving, details remained weak. Both full-time (up 0.7%) and part-time (up 0.4%) job gains contributed to the headline increase, but the former was still 7% below February levels while part-time employment was down less than 1%. This points to even deeper underemployment than headline numbers as jobs return at fewer hours and some parents are forced to adjust work hours. Seasonally adjusted hours worked rose about 3% from July, but actual levels were 12% lower than a year ago.

The future remains murky as the decimated tourism sector heads into the typically slower season, which will receive no support from corporate events. Hospitality gains could roll back. Organizations are also adjusting to the new operating environment, which could lead to rationalization of both front-line and corporate positions. Employment growth will likely be more subdued from here on out.

B.C. international goods exports rebounded in July, pointing to a firming of activity following a pandemic-driven decline. Based on Central 1 calculations, total July dollar-volume exports rose 5.1% (month-to-month) to a seasonally adjusted $3.15 billion. This reversed a 3.6% drop the prior month. Sharp increases in raw metals and mineral resources (up 19%), metals and minerals products (up 14.5%), and motor vehicle and parts (up 35.4%) propelled the increase. Forestry exports rose 2.4%, but given the sector contributes about 30% to overall sales, was also a significant driver. •

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