Labour Force Survey Analysis – April 2017

Overall employment flat in April while manufacturing holds on to last month’s gains

Modest job growth across Canada over the last two months gave way to effectively zero growth in April as a surge in employment in BC was barely able to offset weakness elsewhere in the country. Overall, there were just 3,200 net new jobs created last month – essentially a rounding error for a labour market of 18.3 million.

Although there were no job gains to speak of in April, there was an unexpected dip in the number of Canadians actively looking for work. That decline in labour force participation meant that fewer Canadians were counted as unemployed, driving the national jobless rate down to 6.5 per cent from 6.7 per cent in March.

The other concerning note from the aggregate jobs numbers for April was that the few jobs that were created were all in part-time work. All told, there were 31,200 fewer full-time jobs across Canada last month (a decline of 0.2 per cent), while 34,300 part-time positions were added.

In March, national job growth was fueled by a spike in employment in Alberta, supported by a strong showing in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. April’s gains were similar in that they were driven by a province in Western Canada (this time, BC) and supported by two Atlantic Provinces. Employment in BC grew by 0.5 per cent last month. While that was a solid if unspectacular growth rate, it resulted in the addition of 11,300 net new jobs – far more than any other province was able to produce. Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador also had a strong month, with employment up 1.1 per cent and 0.8 per cent, respectively.

Employment was lower in every province save those three. In most cases, jobs losses were very small, although there were notable declines in Saskatchewan (0.4 per cent) and New Brunswick (0.6 per cent).

At the industry level, results were mixed. Of the sixteen broad industrial categories, eight were higher and eight were lower and most of the increases and losses were relatively modest. Education and health care led the way on the positive side, adding 19,300 and 12,400 net new jobs, respectively. At the other end of the spectrum, there were 18,700 fewer jobs in business and support services industries, and 12,300 fewer jobs in accommodation and food services.

Manufacturing Sector Labour Market

Employment in manufacturing was essentially flat in April, as the sector lost 600 jobs out of a total workforce of about 1.7 million. The good news, however, is that that flat growth came immediately after an exceptionally strong performance in March, during which manufacturers added 24,400 new jobs – an increase of nearly 1.5 per cent over February. Whenever employment rises (or falls) by such a large amount, it often suggests a survey anomaly rather than an actual increase. The fact that employment remained steady after such a spike suggests that real gains are being made.  

With manufacturing employment steady in April, year-over-year jobs numbers are starting to show an improvement. For the first time since March 2016, there are more manufacturing jobs in Canada today than there were a year ago.

While overall manufacturing job growth was flat across Canada, there was considerable variation from one province to the next. By far the most noteworthy development was a second consecutive spike in manufacturing employment in Alberta. Manufacturers in that province have struggled mightily in the wake of the decline in energy capital investment. However, with oil prices and the provincial economy stabilizing, demand is starting to pick up again and businesses are starting to bring back the staff they were forced to lay off earlier. Manufacturing employment in Alberta was up by a remarkable 7.0 per cent in April (7,900 positions), adding to the 4.6 per cent increase in March. Nearly 16,000 manufacturing jobs have returned to Alberta since January. Unfortunately, that represents less than half the jobs that have been lost over the past two years.

Manitoba, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia also posted relatively strong manufacturing employment growth in April, while there was a small increase in Quebec as well. Those gains were offset by losses in Ontario, BC and Saskatchewan.

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