Canada’s labour market posted a mammoth job gain in March as second-wave reopenings lifted rehiring.
Nationally, employment surged by 303,000 persons (or 1.6%), marking the largest single gain since September. The gap from pre-pandemic employment levels narrowed to 1.5%. Less stringent lockdown conditions, specifically in Ontario, were a significant driver of the increase. The unemployment rate fell to 7.5% from 8.2%, marking the lowest level since the pandemic commenced.
That said, March figures are stale. The third wave has hit hard and fast, triggering stay-at-home orders in Ontario and stricter curfews in Quebec. Alberta and B.C. have tightened measures. Given variant spread, it is possible that more stringent measures will be enacted. A partial rollback in April employment numbers is all but certain.
B.C. added jobs at a strong pace in March and outperformed the broader trend. Total employment rose 1.3% (35,000 persons) during the latest month to 2.66 million persons. Despite troubling COVID-19 case count trends, this was an 11th straight monthly gain as public health restrictions have remained relatively modest compared with provincial peers. Employment has fully recovered to pre-pandemic levels, exceeding February 2020 by 0.8%.
The unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.9% as the labour force rose at the same pace as employment. This is a positive sign that more individuals are optimistic about finding work and pounding the pavement (or job search sites) to find work. Labour force participation and employment rates have returned to pre-pandemic levels, although low growth in the population is also a factor.
Metro Vancouver posted stronger employment growth (up 2.2%) than the rest of the province, but the unemployment rate remained higher at 7.5%.
Monthly gains aside, K-shaped trends continue. Accommodations/foodservices employment is still down 11% from pre-pandemic levels, while construction is off by 11%. Lack of tourism and continued public health measures are biting, while soft construction reflects the effect of a drop in housing starts and less business investment. In contrast, professional services, technology, resources and government-related industries have more than recovered. •
Bryan Yu is chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.