Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate holds steady at 4.1% in March

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Ottawa-Gatineau’s unemployment rate held steady at 4.1 per cent last month, Statistics Canada said Thursday, as the region’s economy added about 800 jobs thanks to net gains in key sectors like government and tech.

Total employment in Ottawa-Gatineau clocked in at 812,500 in March, compared with 811,700 the previous month, StatCan said in its latest labour market report. 

At the same time, the size of the labour force – which includes people actively looking for work – ticked up from 846,100 in February to 847,300 last month. 

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The participation rate – a key indicator that compares the size of the region’s labour force to the region’s population of working-age residents – fell slightly to 67.5 per cent, down one-tenth of a point from February.

Ottawa-Gatineau’s largest employer, the civil service, gained about 2,200 jobs in March as it approached 189,000 workers. And despite the mounting headwinds facing the global tech sector, the region’s second-largest industry added 2,600 jobs for a total of 58,400 employees.

Nationally, the Canadian economy added 35,000 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate held steady at five per cent.

StatCan said the job gains were made primarily in the private sector. Employment was up in transportation and warehousing, business, building and other support services, as well as finance, real estate, rental and leasing.

Meanwhile, jobs were lost in construction, other services and natural resources.

As employers kept their hiring appetite, wages continued to grow in March. Average hourly wages rose 5.3 per cent on an annual basis.

The Canadian labour market has been tight for months, despite high interest rates raising the cost of borrowing for people and businesses.

March marked the fourth consecutive month the unemployment rate has held at five per cent, hovering near record lows.

The Statistics Canada report showed those who are unemployed were less likely to stay out of work for a long time. The percentage of those who were unemployed in March that had been out of work for 27 weeks or more was 16 per cent, down from 20.3 per cent a year earlier.

However, the labour market tightness isn’t expected to last forever. The Bank of Canada’s aggressive rate hikes since March 2022 are expected to weigh on the economy, with economists forecasting a significant slowdown this year.

Recent surveys released by the central bank earlier this week showed consumers and businesses are preparing for that slowdown. Consumers said they’re planning to pull back on spending, while businesses are anticipating sales to slow.

That pullback is expected to filter through to the labour market and lead to a rise in unemployment.

And while businesses continued to report labour shortages as a top concern, the surveys showed there are signs that the labour market is easing.

– With additional reporting from the Canadian Press

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