Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate fell to the lowest level in nearly a decade last month as employers collectively added 2,600 net new jobs, Statistics Canada reported Friday.
While job creation was largely flat in 2017, local employers have been on a hiring binge during the first three months of this year. Businesses and organizations in the National Capital Region have added 12,100 new positions during the first quarter, raising the number of employed residents to an all-time high of 736,900.
That pushed the unemployment rate to 4.8 per cent, down from 5.1 per cent in February.
The region’s largest employer, the federal government, added 2,300 jobs last month, while tech employers recorded a decline of 700 jobs.
Hospitality and food services firms in Ottawa reported an increase of 2,900 jobs as the broader services sector added 3,800 net new positions.
This helped to offset declines in construction and goods production as well as the information, culture and recreation sectors.
The economy delivered 32,300 net new jobs last month as Canada generated a rush of full-time work that helped keep the national unemployment rate at its record low.
Nationally, Statistics Canada said the jobless rate stayed at 5.8 per cent in March for a second consecutive month – and for the third time since December – to match its lowest mark since the agency started measuring the indicator in 1976. The only other time the rate slipped to this level was 2007.
The March gains were driven by a surge in full-time work. The labour-market survey showed the workforce added 68,300 full-time positions, while the number of part-time jobs decreased by 35,900.
But looking underneath the headline numbers of the report, some economists argued the results were more of a mixed bag and contained little information to significantly alter the Bank of Canada's thinking ahead of its April 18 interest-rate decision.
For instance, the data showed that 19,600 of the new employee positions created were in the public sector. By comparison, the number of private-sector workers declined by 7,000.
TD senior economist Brian DePratto also noted that 19,800 of the new jobs came in the less desirable category of self employment, which is a classification that includes people working in a family business without pay.
DePratto also pointed out that the number of hours worked remained relatively flat, as did wage growth, which has been hovering just above three per cent for a few months. While wage growth has improved considerably since the middle of 2017, DePratto thinks central bank governor Stephen Poloz is looking for wage growth above four per cent, where it was before the 2008-09 recession.
“Some strong elements, but some elements were a little bit on the weak side,” DePratto said of the overall jobs report.
Compared with 12 months earlier, the national workforce expanded 1.6 per cent with the creation of 296,200 jobs. The entire year-over-year growth was fuelled by 335,200 new full-time positions.
But in recent months the numbers have shown some evidence that Canada's red-hot labour market could be starting to cool down as it reaches full capacity, which has been widely expected.
Statistics Canada said employment declined by about 40,000 jobs over the first quarter of 2018 for a decline of 0.2 per cent.
Royal Bank deputy chief economist Dawn Desjardins said the economy disappointed in those first three months of the year by posting its first quarterly employment decline since 2010.
Still, she cited several recent data points, such as wage growth, the low unemployment rate and rising core inflation, as reasons for the central bank to inch closer towards another rate hike. Poloz has raised the benchmark rate three times since last July.
“(They are) testing the bank's argument that slack in the labour market remains,” Desjardins wrote in a research report.
“When you layer on the stealth increase in core inflation, the case for the bank to delay pulling back on the currently highly stimulative monetary conditions until the second half of the year is weakening.”
The Bank of Canada has repeatedly highlighted wage growth as a key indicator.
Average hourly wage growth strengthened in March to 3.3 per cent, up from 3.1 per cent the previous month, Statistics Canada survey said Friday. Wage growth has been moving upwards since it bottomed out at 0.5 per cent in April 2017.
Central Canada saw the biggest job gains in March as the two largest provinces – Ontario and Quebec – each added more than 10,000 net new positions.
Quebec gained 16,000 net new jobs, including 28,600 full-time positions, while Ontario added 10,600 net new jobs, including 16,300 full-time positions.
For Ontario, however, the gain only represented a 0.1 per cent increase compared to the previous month. Quebec saw growth of 0.4 per cent.
By percentage, Saskatchewan and Alberta each saw solid monthly growth. Saskatchewan's labour force expanded 0.7 per cent, while Alberta's grew 0.4 per cent. Alberta's jobless rate fell to 6.3 per cent, from 6.7.
The youth unemployment rate dipped last month to 10.9 per cent, down from 11.1 per cent in February, following a net gain of 17,700 new jobs.
By industry, goods-producing sectors added 21,700 positions, mostly in construction. Services sectors created 10,600 jobs, with the bulk of the increase coming from new positions in public administration.
– with files from Canadian Press