Ottawa-Gatineau unemployment rate drops to 4.4% in September

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Employers in nearly all sectors of the local economy added to their payrolls in September, cutting the National Capital Region’s unemployment rate to its lowest level in more than a year, Statistics Canada said Friday.

Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate last month fell to 4.4 per cent, down from 4.7 per cent in August and the lowest rate in the region since June 2018. Businesses across virtually all industries were in a hiring mood in September, adding 12,600 new jobs, while the size of the region’s labour force – which includes people who are searching for work – expanded by about 10,000 workers in the same period. 

Two of Ottawa-Gatineau’s key employment drivers ​– the public-service and tech sectors ​– both experienced slight gains last month, with government payrolls edging up from 174,200 to 174,500 positions and total tech employment rising from 49,000 to 49,600.

But with few exceptions, industries across the board picked up jobs in September, led by the construction sector (up 2,700 positions), retail (a gain of 2,500) and health care (up 1,800).

The local jobs numbers echoed a wider national trend reflected in last month’s labour force survey.

Canada's unemployment rate nudged down to a near four-decade low in September, seemingly shrugging off global signs of an economic slowdown, but with economists warning that the numbers weren't entirely rosy.

The survey showed the country added about 54,000 net new jobs last month, driven largely by gains in full-time work, and dropping the jobless rate nationally by 0.2 points to 5.5 per cent.

The numbers surpassed analysts' expectations that the country would gain 10,000 jobs in September, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

The national statistics offices said the jobs growth was largely concentrated in the health-care sector, and notes gains in the number of public-sector and self-employed workers. The report also said 70,000 of the new jobs were full-time, as the number of part-time workers declined.

Average hourly wages, too, were up from where they were one year ago.

“Canada's labour market has really been on a tear over the last year – job growth has been very strong, so seeing that continue through the third quarter,” said Josh Nye, senior economist with RBC Economics.

“Unemployment is low, wages are starting to pick up – wage growth was really the missing ingredient in what looked like a pretty strong labour market backdrop last year.”

The agency said the country saw a rush last month of 49,400 new positions in services industries, but a drop of 21,000 jobs in the private sector – even though year-over-year private sector job numbers are actually up.

Young workers aged 15 to 24 years old saw drops in the ranks of full- and part-time workers, inching their unemployment rate to 11.9 per cent – not all that dissimilar from the same time one year ago.

Compared with a year earlier, the numbers show Canada added 456,000 jobs, for an increase of 2.4 per cent.

BMO chief economist Doug Porter said that despite the rock-solid growth in job numbers over the last year, the broader economy remains lacklustre with year-over-year GDP growth crawling along at 1.3 per cent.

“We're getting the jobs gains, but it's not really translating into the big gains in spending or the broader economy in terms of overall output gains. Growth is still quite modest in this country, so we're not getting a whole lot of payback from those strong job gains,” Porter said.

“So I wouldn't say the overall picture is entirely rosy, but it's still I'd regard as encouraging that we're continuing to churn out job increases.”

Avery Shenfeld, chief economist with CIBC Capital Markets, said in a note that the low jobless rate will likely cement the case for the Bank of Canada to hold its trend-setting interest rate.

But he warned that economists will keep an eye towards any data over the rest of the year suggesting a global slowdown is lapping up on Canada's economic shores.

– With files from the Canadian Press