OTTAWA – Canada’s jobs market continues to sputter as the economy gave back some of January’s gains by shedding 7,000 workers overall in February, a disappointment to those hoping for a strong start to the year.
The loss was tiny in relative terms and insufficient to alter the 7.0 per cent unemployment rate.
But after last week’s news of stronger fourth quarter economic growth than forecasted, and an encouraging 29,000 employment increase in January, economists had expected that February would also see gains in the order of about 15,000 jobs.
The setback in February continues a pattern of up and down months in the Canadian labour market, which has been virtually stalled since last August.
While the last 12 months has seen a pick-up of 95,000 workers – a weak number – Statistics Canada notes that “there has been little overall employment growth in Canada since August 2013.”
The softness was reflected in the employment rate, which held steady at 61.6 per cent, still about two percentage points below the pre-recession highs.
There were 15,500 fewer people classified as employees but 8,600 more people became self-employed.
There were some bright spots in the employment report, which is one of the most important barometers of how the economy is doing.
Despite the overall loss of jobs as 25,900 fewer people were in part-time work, as full-time employment rose by 18,900.
As well, the weakness came in the public sector, as declines in health care and social assistance, education services as well as transportation and warehousing contributed to a 51,000 dip in the labour pool. Private sector employment rose by 35,200.
Regionally, Quebec and British Columbia both had off employment months of 25,500 and 10,400 respectively, while Alberta and Nova Scotia saw gains of 19,000 and 2,900.
By industry, there were 9,000 more workers in natural resources and 7,900 more in agriculture in February, but 25,000 fewer in finance, insurance, real estate and leasing. Manufacturing saw a small pick-up of about 5,000, while construction lost 3,600.
In a separate report, Statistics Canada said the country’s trade deficit had significantly narrowed to $177 million in January from $922 million the previous month, although most of the improvement had little to do with jobs generating exports. In fact, in volume terms, exports fell 5.3 per cent, while a sharp decline in imports and better prices helped the bottom line.