Soft December job growth for B.C. as flooding takes its toll

Province adds 400 jobs, unemployment falls to 5.3%

Severe flooding choked of highway networks in and out of southwestern B.C. at the end of 2021 | Stefan Labbe, Glacier Media

Severe flooding that choked much southwestern B.C.’s highway networks at the tail end of 2021 also left the province with muted job growth last month.

The West Coast added 400 jobs to the economy in December — down from 4,600 jobs a month earlier — as rebuilding efforts got underway after the province was left rattled by the flood fallout, according to data released Friday by Statistics Canada. Employment in Canada grew by 55,000 jobs.

B.C.’s unemployment rate, meanwhile, fell 0.3 percentage points to 5.3% compared with November as more people left the workforce. The national unemployment rate fell 0.1 percentage point to 5.9%.

The biggest losses last month in B.C. came for positions in accommodation and food services (-6,700 jobs); professional, scientific and technical services (-6,800 jobs); and finance, insurance and real estate (-6,300 jobs).

The construction industry, which is now being tapped for rebuilding efforts, added 4,500 jobs last month, while the retail/wholesale trade sector responded to the holiday shopping season with an additional 2,500 jobs. The biggest gain in any one sector was for the agricultural industry, which added 6,100 jobs, according to the national statistics agency.

The construction industry recorded its first employment increase nationally since August, “and this trend is likely to continue due to rebuilding efforts in southwestern B.C.," TD senior economist Sri Thanabalasingam said in a note.

The atmospheric rivers that pummelled B.C. last year began at the very end of November, after Statistics Canada had already completed its surveys for that month. The December data is the first time B.C. is seeing the immediate impacts on jobs as a result of the devastating floods.

Overall the province added 101,000 jobs to the economy in all of 2021, but 2022 is kicking off with warnings from B.C. health officials that as much as one third of the workforce could end up out of commission at any given time owing to the high transmissibility of the COVID-19 Omicron variant.

RBC senior economist Nathan Janzen said he expects jobs in January will fall “substantially” as a result of the variant’s impacts.

“Clearly, the economy will take a big step back at the start of 2022, with an outright dip in GDP quite possible in Q1,” BMO chief economist Douglas Porter said in a note, referring to the national data.

“But the December jobs gain reveals the underlying resiliency of the economy. For the [Bank of Canada], this suggests that policymakers will likely still be looking at raising interest rates as soon as they are comfortable that the economy can again rebound quickly from the current wave of restrictions.”

Following the December jobs numbers, both Janzen and Porter said the central bank is most likely to raise the overnight rate in April.