Ottawa-Gatineau's unemployment rate drops to 7.1% in November as labour force shrinks

Ottawa skyline new

Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate continued to fall in November, Statistics Canada’s latest figures show ​– but a deeper dive into the latest jobs report suggests that the economy still has a long way to go to return to pre-pandemic levels.

The National Capital Region’s jobless rate dropped a full percentage point last month to 7.1 per cent, StatsCan said Friday. That’s the lowest the rate has been since April, when it stood at 6.9 per cent in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis.

That’s the good news. But a closer look at the region’s workforce shows many sectors of the local economy are still struggling to regain their footing as the pandemic wears on.

The number of employed people in Ottawa-Gatineau rose slightly last month, with StatsCan reporting that a net total of 700 new jobs were created in November. But the overall size of the labour force ​– which includes unemployed people who are actively looking for work ​– continued to shrink.

The region’s labour force stood at just over 784,000 in November, down from nearly 792,000 in October and a far cry from January’s pre-pandemic total of about 822,000. StatsCan says the region has shed more than 58,000 jobs since January, when the unemployment rate was 4.3 per cent.

November was a particularly rough month for the tech industry, which has been one of the capital’s biggest bright spots in 2020 as the shift to remote work has triggered a surge in demand for networking and communications software. The tech sector shed a net total of 4,100 jobs last month, employing 43,500 people ​– the lowest total since February. 

Public-sector gains

Two of the hardest-hit sectors of the economy – retail and food services – lost a combined 2,400 net jobs in November. The health-care industry also suffered, shedding a net 3,500 positions.

Last month’s gainers included the all-important public-service sector, which added a net 1,900 jobs, and educational services, which grew by a net 5,300 positions. The real estate and finance sector also expanded, adding a net total of 1,800 jobs.

Nationally, the rate of job growth continued to slow in November with the economy adding 62,000 jobs, down from 84,000 in October.

The gains were mostly focused in full-time work with a gain of 99,000 jobs, offset somewhat by a decline in part-time work of 37,000 positions, StatsCan said.

The average economist estimate had been for a gain of 20,000 jobs and an unchanged unemployment rate, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

The gains in November left the country 574,000 jobs short of recouping the approximately three million jobs lost from lockdowns in March and April that sent the unemployment rate skyrocketing to 13.7 per cent in May.

The unemployment rate fell to 8.5 per cent compared with 8.9 per cent in October.

The unemployment rate would have been 10.9 per cent in November, StatCan said, had it included in calculations Canadians who wanted to work last month but didn't search for a job.

The agency said 1.5 million people searched for jobs in November, a small drop of 39,000 from October, but still more than 448,000 or so who were looking for work in February, pre-pandemic.

The report noted that job searchers made up an increasing share of the total number of unemployed.

Youth unemployment rate falls

The youth unemployment rate fell 1.4 per cent to 17.4 per cent with a gain of about 20,000 jobs for the age group, mostly concentrated among young men with little change to the employment situation for women aged 15 to 24.

Similarly, employment among women 25 to 54 years old didn't change much in November after six straight months of seeing the numbers rise.

Positions in the hard-hit accommodation and food services sector declined for the second consecutive month, shedding 24,000 jobs in November.

That figure doesn't take into account renewed restrictions in areas like Toronto that kicked in later in the month.

“As a result, it's likely that COVID will catch up with the Canadian economy in the December data, with a decline expected in both employment and overall economic activity,” notes CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes.

Overall, the pace of job gains has slowed, with employment rising by 0.3 per cent in November compared to an average of 2.7 per cent per month between May and September.

– With files from the Canadian Press