British Columbia weathers countrywide jobs downturn

The Canadian labour market weakened to end 2020 as surging COVID-19 cases, tempered demand and more restrictive measures forced employers to cut staff and idled more self-employed individuals.

According to the Labour Force Survey, Canadian employment fell for the first time since the recovery phase began, with 62,600 (0.3%) fewer employed individuals in December. Part-time losses more than offset a gain of 36,500 full-time workers. This was the first employment contraction since the recovery phase commenced. The national unemployment rate edged up by 0.1 percentage points to 8.6%.

B.C. was largely unscathed in December due to relatively mild restrictions and posted the only employment gain among provinces (up 3,800 persons or 0.2%) led by full-time hiring. B.C.’s unemployment rate edged up to 7.2%, but was second-lowest among provinces.

While outperforming the national picture, industry employment patterns were similar. Accommodations/foodservices employment fell by 7,400 persons (3.9%), and information/culture/recreation fell 1,500 persons (1.3%) amid more social restrictions and heightened caution among households. Finance/insurance/real estate fell 3.5%. Primary offsets included construction (up 6,600 persons or 3.2%) and manufacturing (up 3,300 persons or 1.9%). 

Metro Vancouver employment fell 0.1%, but lower labour force participation cut Metro Vancouver’s unemployment rate to 7% from 7.4% in December.

Recent predictions that the home sales cycle would top out were premature as Lower Mainland Multiple Listing Service sales surged to a record December high. Total sales in the region spanning Metro Vancouver and Abbotsford-Mission reached 5,124 units. This was 61% higher than same-month 2019 and 18% above the previous December high observed in 2015.

Annual sales rose 25% from 2019 to 50,480 units, marking the highest level since 2017.

Despite sharply lower immigration, low mortgage rates and shifting preferences during the pandemic continued to propel demand.

An increase in new listings also supported higher sales providing more choice for buyers. New listings rose 55% from a year ago and 10% from November as more sellers tested the market but still trailed the pace of sales growth. Month-end inventory levels continued to drop, contributing to tightening of market conditions. •

Bryan Yu is chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.