Canada sees surprise bounce in jobs, unemployment ticks down to 6.6%

The economy added 35,000 jobs in January. Credit/Canadian Press

The economy showed surprising strength on the surface in January, cranking out a much better than expected 35,000 new jobs, according to Statistics Canada.

The reading easily exceeded expectations that about 6,000 jobs would be generated in the month, while the federal statistics agency said Friday the rise helped lower the unemployment rate by a tenth of a percentage point, to 6.6 per cent.

Digging into the details though reveals a less sanguine picture.

Part-time, self-employed

Statscan said the increase was “the result of more part-time work.” The number of people who said they were “self-employed” also rose last month — by a whopping 41,100.

Part-time work tends to pay less than full-time positions, while self-employed jobs are considered less stable than positions attached to company or government payrolls. The number of full-time positions actually declined by 12,000 last month.

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“Canada’s job numbers were good, but not quite as good as they looked at first glance, given a tilt to part-time and self-employed positions,” Avery Shenfeld, chief economist at the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce said following the release of the jobs numbers.

Experts and economy watchers are paying particular attention to monthly jobs numbers as lower oil prices hit employment in the all-important energy sector. Oil’s slide has also been accompanied by a string of job cut announcements from big retailers, like Target, and some manufacturers, like gum-maker Wrigley’s.

The resource sector, where energy workers are counted, declined by 9,000 — “a sign of things to come,” Shenfeld said.

Alberta holds firm

Still, the job market in Alberta, home to the most number of oil production projects in the country, held firm in the face of cratering crude prices. Alberta did shed 1,000 resource sector jobs last month, an early sign of the oil shock, experts say.

But the province, which accounted for roughly one in three new jobs created last year, remained the country’s employment growth leader in the first month of 2015. More than 13,500 jobs were added to Alberta payrolls last month and the province’s unemployment rate dropped two ticks to 4.5 per cent.

“That clearly cannot last, but it is impressive just how much underlying momentum Alberta had around the turn of the year heading into the steep oil price drop,” BMO chief economist Doug Porter said.

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In all, eight of 10 provinces managed to add jobs last month. The only two to register declines were Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia. “The former is the second largest oil producer in the country,” Porter noted.


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