B.C. job growth slowed to a crawl in December as big gains made in the preceding months and new restrictions brought on by the pandemic’s second wave caught up to the province.
The West Coast added 3,800 jobs last month — down from the 23,900 jobs gained in November, according to data released Friday (January 8) from Statistics Canada.
That fall data reflected labour market conditions from November 8-12, just prior to new restrictions that saw the provincial government urging British Columbians to further reduce social interactions and mask up while in all public and retail indoor locations.
Statistics Canada’s latest data, gathered December 6-12, reveals that after those restrictions were imposed the province lost 20,300 part-time positions while gaining 24,000 full-time positions.
Most of those losses were in accommodation and food services, which saw 7,400 jobs evaporate last month.
That was followed by the 5,700 jobs lost in the finance, insurance, rental and leasing category.
The province made its biggest gains in construction (+6,600 jobs) and manufacturing (+3,300 jobs).
The unemployment rate, meanwhile, grew from 7.1% in November to 7.2% in December as more people entered the labour force.
Nationwide employment fell by 62,300 jobs last month — the first drop for Canada since the spring — as the unemployment rate rose 0.1 month to month to reach 8.6%.
Ken Peacock, chief economist at the Business Council of B.C., noted the December gains mean the province is now down 33,600 jobs compared with February’s pre-pandemic numbers.
He said gains over the past few months have outperformed his own expectations as he believed it was possible at the outset of the pandemic that the province could be down as many as 150,000 jobs by the end of 2020.
“We've already been through a period of pretty strong job growth so there's quite a bit of variation by industry. So, I think that kind of points to some underlying resiliency [in B.C.’s economy],” Peacock told BIV, noting that the province’s restrictions haven’t been as stringent as in other provinces.
“If you kind of take that framework and layer on … vaccines being distributed, then these industries that have been restrained, they should return. Travel should come back to the province — that would be a big boost — and if consumers are back out visiting restaurants and bowling alleys and movie theatres in fuller force, that provides a lift, too.”
But he added that the latest job numbers likely reflect a slowdown in growth and British Columbians should be prepared for a “rough” first quarter.
"With virus spread remaining at alarming levels in much of Canada, and containment measures being extended and expanded, both the labour market and broader economic recovery appear to have stalled,” RBC senior economist Nathan Janzen wrote in a note.
“We expect the first quarter of 2021 will be a challenging one for the Canadian economy, with no growth in GDP expected. As vaccinations become more broadly distributed we look for the economy to regain its momentum leading to a recovery in job creation.”
BMO chief economist Douglas Porter said the latest numbers were very close to “downbeat expectations.”
“With restrictions broadening and lengthening since the December survey, we may well see another pullback in next month's report. But the good news, such as it is, is that Shutdown 2 is imposing a much less severe economic cost than in the spring, especially in sectors not directly affected,” he said in a note.
“Overall, the big picture is that the economy has proven to be a bit more resilient than many expected to renewed restrictions — good news — but those restrictions look to last much longer than expected — offsetting bad news.”