Payroll employment counts dip by 0.1%

B.C. non-farm payroll counts softened slightly in January to contrast with a deeper national contraction.

Payroll employment came in at nearly 2.23 million persons, marking a dip of 0.1% (1,700 positions) from December. In comparison, national payrolls slumped 0.8% as extended second-wave health restrictions in provinces such as Ontario and Quebec led to increased layoffs.

Fifteen of 20 sectors added employees as a strong housing market and growing professional services and tech sectors lifted employment. Professional/scientific/technical services added 4,300 positions (3.1%), while real estate/rental/leasing gained 1,021 positions (2.5%). Broadly, gains in other sectors were mild. Offsetting these increases were sharper declines in arts/entertainment/recreation (down 12% or 4,561 positions) and retail trade (down 4,812 or 1.7%), suggesting a further post-holiday slump.

Year over year, payroll counts were down 5.8%. This was deeper than the 1.7% drop in the Labour Force Survey (LFS) employment tally, which could reflect issues related to timing and sampling of the LFS survey, while multi-job holders may be working in few locations and hence factor into fewer jobs in the payroll survey. Broadly, tourism and hospitality remain the hardest hit with accommodations/foodservices down 25% and arts/entertainment/recreation sectors down 40%. More modest losses persist in other sectors, but gaps narrowed.

While overall employment will improve with vaccines and broader economic growth, short-term trends will likely soften given that the pandemic’s third wave is underway.

Average weekly earnings continued to trend higher, climbing 0.6% to $1,116, and an 8.8% year-over-year increase. However, this continues to reflect fewer jobs in lower paid occupations and industries, skewing the overall average to higher income earning positions.

B.C. business recovery numbers extended into December as more businesses reopened and more new businesses took root despite (or perhaps triggered by) the pandemic environment. A total of 144,998 businesses open, which was 0.9% higher than November.

This mild uptick reflected steady openings at 7,944 businesses that outnumbered closures (5,852). •

Bryan Yu is chief economist at Central 1 Credit Union.