Larger labour force offsets March job gains in Ottawa-Gatineau

ottawa

Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate held steady at 5.1 per cent in March, with a jump in the size of the region’s labour force being offset by a virtually identical increase in the number of jobs, Statistics Canada said Friday.

The number of employed residents in Ottawa-Gatineau stood at 748,500 last month, up about 2,800 from February. At the same time, the size of the overall labour force ​– which includes people looking for work ​– rose by 3,000 to 788,600.

Two of the region’s largest employers – public service and high-tech – both showed gains in March. The public administration sector added about 900 positions to sit at 163,500, while tech employers in the region boosted their collective workforce by 1,100 for a total of 44,300.

Other gainers in March included health care, which grew by 2,100 positions, and the accommodation and food services sector, which added about 900 jobs. However, those gains were offset by losses in wholesale and retail trade, which suffered a net decline of 2,500 positions, and the construction sector, which also shed 2,500 jobs in March.

Nationally, the Canadian economy's six-month streak of job creation – which included a number of big gains – came to an end last month.

Employment in March dropped by 7,200 net jobs, the bulk of which were full-time positions, StatCan said in its latest labour force survey. The unemployment rate held firm at 5.8 per cent.

The March result followed a pair of big gains in January and February, and together the three-month period still gave Canada its best quarter of job creation since late 2017. The six consecutive months of rising employment that began in September added around 300,000 jobs.

“Was I terribly surprised to see a small pullback after the run we've seen? Probably not,” said Brian DePratto, senior economist with Toronto-Dominion Bank.

“As it stands, we've had a pretty good run. March doesn't really change that materially. The six-month trend is still pretty strong.”

Employment has been one of the most resilient areas of an economy that has shown signs of slowing down in recent months.

In March, the number of employee positions in the private sector fell by 17,300, while public sector-employee jobs increased by 4,200 and self-employed occupations rose by 6,000.

Employment for women in the core working age group of 25 to 54 saw a decrease of 47,600 for its biggest month-to-month decline since the start of the data series in 1976. The jobless rate for the category rose to 4.7 per cent from 4.5 per cent.

The March decline followed monthly increases of 66,800 net new jobs in January and 55,900 in February – the country's best two-month start to a year since 1981.

Compared with a year earlier, the numbers showed that Canada added 331,600 jobs for an increase of 1.8 per cent.

Avery Shenfeld, CIBC's chief economist, said even with the March drop, hiring still looked “very brisk” and perhaps “too brisk” for an economy that's likely growing at between just one and 1.5 per cent.

“The party had to end at some point, since Canadian jobs data had outrun other signposts of economic growth so dramatically, making the small retreat in employment in March not much of a surprise,” Shenfeld said in a research note to clients.

Year-over-year average hourly wage growth for all employees in March was 2.4 per cent, which was up from a reading of 2.3 per cent in February. For permanent employees, wage growth was 2.3 per cent, an increase from the previous reading of 2.25 per cent.

Many experts had expected the job-creation surge at the start of the year to lose momentum. The average economist estimate had predicted a gain of 1,000 jobs, according to a poll by Thomson Reuters Eikon.

– With files from the Canadian Press