Employers across the region collectively added 2,500 net new jobs in February, according to Statistics Canada, marking the fourth straight month of gains and setting an all-time employment high in the nation’s capital.
The gains, which were driven by hiring in the hospitality and food services industry, pushed Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate down to 5.1 per cent, an 11-month low and a decline from 5.2 per cent in January.
The region’s job market started its most recent run of gains last fall. Since October, Ottawa-Gatineau has added 15,100 jobs, with the region now employing some 734,300 residents. That’s the largest number ever recorded by Statistics Canada, according to OBJ files.
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Last month, the region’s largest employer – the federal government – shed 1,300 jobs, while employment in the Ottawa-Gatineau tech sector was largely flat with a decline of approximately 100 jobs.
That was more than offset by a gain of 3,700 jobs in the hospitality and food services industry as well as 2,400 positions in the broader services sector.
National rate falls to 5.8%
Nationally, the economy got a job-creation lift last month that nudged the unemployment rate back down to match its all-time low of 5.8 per cent.
But a closer look reveals a rush of part-time work and a big decline in full-time positions.
Statistics Canada’s latest labour force survey, released Friday, showed the country lost 39,300 full-time jobs and generated 54,700 part-time positions in February. It also found the job gains were driven by an increase of 50,300 in public-sector jobs.
The national unemployment rate slipped from 5.9 per cent in January to 5.8 per cent – to match its lowest level since the agency started measuring it in 1976. The jobless rate has only fallen to 5.8 per cent twice during that time, once in 2007 and again in December.
Looking back, the job market added 282,500 positions for a 1.5 per cent expansion over the past 12 months – with growth entirely due to full-time work. Canada’s year-over-year job creation last month showed signs of moderation after the number climbed above 420,000 positions in December.
Experts, including the Bank of Canada, have been expecting the job market’s red-hot pace from last year to cool along with the rest of the economy as it approaches full capacity.
Manulife Asset Management senior economist Frances Donald said there’s very little in the jobs report that will rock the boat – and she added that in itself is very important.
“These jobs numbers fit quite well into the Bank of Canada’s cautiously optimistic Canadian narrative,” Donald said.
“The Canadian job market, just like the broader economy, is decelerating somewhat, but it’s coming back down to earth in what we might consider a more-reasonable pace of gains with fewer distortions.”
Donald underlined a couple of key indicators from the jobs report: The upward trend for hours worked, which suggests continued strong demand for labour in the economy as well as average wage growth that’s still hovering around three per cent, suggesting more Canadians are benefiting from the healthier market.
Average hourly wage growth, which is under close watch by the Bank of Canada ahead of interest-rate decisions, stayed solid at 3.1 per cent. In January, wage growth hit 3.3 per cent following a steady flow of monthly increases after the indicator bottomed out at 0.5 per cent last April.
“At 3.1 per cent in February, wage growth posted a fourth consecutive month above its longer-term average of 2.6 per cent,” Sherry Cooper, chief economist for Dominion Lending Centres, wrote in a research note.
Cooper said the February reading won’t set off inflation warnings for the Bank of Canada, which noted this week that wage growth is still below what it considers a normal level for an economy without labour market slack.
“This suggests the bank will maintain its cautious stance,” she said.
Earlier this week, the central bank highlighted wage growth as one of the key data points that it will scrutinize ahead of future rate decisions. The Bank of Canada kept its trend-setting rate at 1.25 per cent on Wednesday after introducing three hikes since last summer.
The central bank has remained cautiously upbeat about the economy and has said more interest rate hikes will likely be necessary over time, despite mounting protectionist and competitiveness unknowns that have clouded the economic outlook. It said future decisions will continue to be guided by incoming data, such as the economy’s sensitivity to higher rates, the evolution of economic capacity and changes to wage growth and inflation.
Deputy governor Timothy Lane said in a speech Thursday that while the future is subject to notable uncertainties, trends over the past few quarters have been broad-based across regions and sectors, and “quite encouraging.”
Last month’s job growth, while small enough to be statistically insignificant, represents an improvement over the January report that showed a drop of 88,000 positions for the labour force’s steepest one-month drop in nine years.
By industry, the goods-producing sector shed 10,400 positions last month, led by a decline of 16,500 jobs in manufacturing, while the services industries added 25,900 jobs.
The survey also said the number of paid employee jobs increased last month by 58,800 positions, compared with a decrease in self-employed positions of 43,300.
By region, New Brunswick saw the biggest percentage increase – a boost of 1.5 per cent compared with January – as it gained 5,100 jobs. Ontario added 15,700 positions, which was a 0.2 per cent boost compared with January.
– With reporting by the Canadian Press