Region’s unemployment rate jumps to 4.8% in March as local economy sheds jobs

Jobs employment

Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate rose for the second month in a row in March as the region shed more than 2,000 jobs in an economy bogged down by high interest rates.

Statistics Canada said Friday the region’s unemployment rate rose to 4.8 per cent last month, up from 4.7 per cent in February.

Total employment in Ottawa-Gatineau fell by 2,500 jobs in March compared with the previous month, while the labour force shrunk by 1,000 people as fewer residents searched for work.

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The tech sector continued its recent slide, contracting by 3,200 positions in March after shedding 2,800 jobs in February. 

Statistics Canada said 59,700 people were employed in information and communication technology in the region last month, down from 62,900 in February. 

Meanwhile, the region’s largest employer, the public administration sector, gained 5,200 jobs. A total of 204,200 people were employed in government work in March, compared with 199,000 the previous month.

Statistics Canada has been putting more emphasis on the employment rate in its reports recently to capture whether job gains are keeping up with population growth.

The local employment rate – which represents the proportion of residents aged 15 years and older who are employed – dropped to 65.4 per cent last month from 65.8 per cent in February.

National rate jumps to 6.1%

Nationally, Canada’s unemployment rate jumped to 6.1 per cent in March as more people looked for work.

Statistics Canada’s labour force survey shows the figure is up from 5.8 per cent in February and marks the largest increase in the unemployment rate since summer 2022.

Employment was little changed last month, with the economy shedding 2,200 jobs, after modest increases over the last several months.

“The cracks that had been emerging within the Canadian labour market suddenly got a lot wider,” wrote CIBC’s executive director of economics, Andrew Grantham, in a client note.

The jump in unemployment comes as high borrowing costs weigh on businesses and strong population growth continues to add to the country’s labour supply.

The unemployment rate was up one percentage point on a year-over-year basis.

“The problem is that we got a slight decline in employment at a time when the population is still increasing, very, very quickly. And that was the main cause of concern within this report,” Grantham later said in an interview.

Youth are particularly feeling the chill in the labour market. Employment among those aged 15 to 24 declined by 28,000 in March and the jobless rate for the group rose to 12.6 per cent, the highest it’s been since September 2016 outside of 2020 and 2021.

A report from RBC released in January said students and new graduates rather than new arrivals to Canada are driving the increase in unemployment in the country.

“Close to half of the increase in the total number of unemployed people year-over-year in Canada … were students that were not in the job market and have started looking for work,” said Nathan Janzen, RBC’s assistant chief economist.

Friday’s report shows job losses last month were concentrated in accommodation and food services, followed by wholesale and retail trade and professional, scientific and technical services.

Meanwhile, employment increased in four industries, led by health care and social assistance.

Statistics Canada says the rise in the jobless rate was driven by an increase of 60,000 people searching for work or temporarily laid off.

The total number of unemployed people in the country stood at 1.3 million last month, an increase of nearly 250,000 compared with a year ago.

Despite weaker labour market conditions, wage growth continued to grow rapidly, with average hourly wages rising 5.1 per cent annually.

The job report is the last piece of major economic data the Bank of Canada has to consider ahead of its next interest rate decision on Wednesday.

Investors will be looking for any hints from the central bank on when it plans to begin lowering its key interest rate, which currently sits at five per cent.

Economists had been betting the Bank of Canada would deliver the first rate cut in June or July. However, after the latest jobs data, expectations are now leaning more toward June. 

Grantham said he expects the central bank to signal rate cuts are imminent and point to the loosening labour market.

“We do think there’s going to be some hints there that interest rate cuts are close,” Grantham said.

– With additional reporting from the Canadian Press

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