Ottawa-Gatineau's unemployment rate drops to 5.1% in February

Unemployment rate

Employers in Ottawa-Gatineau added 7,300 jobs to their payrolls in February, pushing the region’s unemployment rate down one percentage point to 5.1 per cent, Statistics Canada said Friday.

The slight dip halted four consecutive months of increases in the jobless rate. The spike in the number of new positions helped offset a jump of 6,600 in the overall size of the region’s labour force, which includes people who are searching for jobs.

The biggest gains in February came in professional services, which added 3,900 positions, while the accommodation and food services and the education sectors also grew by more than 3,000 jobs each.

The region’s second-largest employer, the high-tech industry, also had another solid month. The sector employed 43,400 people in February, according to Statistics Canada, up from 42,500 a month earlier ​– its sixth consecutive month of gains.

Ottawa-Gatineau’s largest employer didn’t fare as well in February. The number of public-service workers in the region fell from 164,300 in January to 162,600 last month. The health-care sector also saw its ranks decline by 3,700 positions.

Nationally, the labour market generated a second straight month of strong job gains in February with the creation of 55,900 net new positions, all of which were full-time, StatCan said.

The Canadian increase even outpaced job creation in the United States, where figures showed an increase of just 20,000 new positions last month.

Canada's February surge followed an even bigger gain of 66,800 positions in January. The back-to-back results gave Canada its strongest two-month stretch of job creation since the spring of 2012 – and its best two-month start to a year since 1981.

Even with the increase, the unemployment rate held firm last month at 5.8 per cent as more people hunted for work, the agency said in its latest labour force survey.

The addition last month of 67,400 full-time jobs more than offset a loss of 11,600 part-time positions, the data showed. The agency said the number of more desirable employee positions in the private sector climbed by 31,800 last month, while public sector jobs rose 8,900. The number of self-employed increased by 15,100.

Overall, the employment increase was led by a gain of 46,200 positions in the services sector, largely concentrated in the categories of professional, scientific and technical services, public administration and wholesale and retail trade.

The goods-producing sectors added 9,500 new positions following job gains in natural resources, agriculture and manufacturing.

Year-over-year average hourly wage growth in February for permanent employees was 2.3 per cent, which was up from a reading of 1.8 per cent in January.

The Bank of Canada keeps close watch of several wage indicators ahead of policy decisions on its key interest rate. In particular, the central bank focuses on a reading called “wage common,” which incorporates payroll data from several sources, not just from the labour force survey.

On Thursday, Bank of Canada deputy governor Lynn Patterson said she expects economic growth – which has seen an abrupt deceleration in recent months – to build fresh momentum in the second half of the year, thanks in large part to the still-strong employment conditions and improving wages.

Over the 12-month stretch leading up to February, total employment rose by 369,100 jobs or two per cent.

More young Canadians between the ages of 15 and 24 years old found work last month as youth employment gained 28,600 positions. The increase helped the youth jobless rate move down to 10.8 per cent, from 11.2 per cent in January.

By region, Ontario saw the biggest employment increase last month with the addition of 36,900 jobs.

– With files from the Canadian Press