Greater Victoria unemployment rate among lowest in Canada

Greater Victoria’s unemployment rate rose slightly to 5.7 per cent in March, but remains among the lowest in the country.

The capital region’s unemployment rate was 4.9 per cent in February.

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More people were looking for work locally, with the labour force climbing to 221,300 in March from 218,400 in February. Employment increased somewhat to 208,700 from 207,600, Statistics Canada said Friday in its monthly labour force report.

Quebec City had the lowest unemployment rate in the country in March at 4.9 per cent. Figures are based on a seasonally adjusted three-month moving average.

Kelowna was in second place at 5.0 per cent, followed by a tie between Greater Victoria and Sherbrooke, Que.

B.C.’s unemployment rate was unchanged at 6.9 per cent, below the national rate of 7.5 per cent and down from 8.2 per cent in February, bringing the rate to a pandemic-era low.

The new job numbers illustrate the impact of the pandemic on tourism-related and hospitality businesses in Greater Victoria.

In March, 14,000 people were employed in accommodation and food services in the capital region, down from 16,500 for the same month a year ago, when the pandemic began to seriously affect Canada’s economy.

Information, culture and recreation-related jobs also declined last month to 6,400 from 10,000 a year ago.

Construction job numbers slid to 13,600 in March from 18,800 in March 2020.

The picture is brighter in the educational-services job category. There are now 21,000 people employed in that sector, up from 14,000 in March 2020.

Public administration jobs in all levels of government rose to 31,000 last month, from 27,000 the previous year.

Wholesale and retail trade job numbers also increased to 30,000 last month, compared to 23,000 in March 2020.

The federal agency says Canada’s economy added 303,000 jobs in March as employment increased, including gains in sectors hardest hit by public-health restrictions.

There were about 95,000 more retail jobs for the month, fully recouping losses sustained in January lockdowns.

There was also an employment bump of 21,000 in the accommodation and food services sector, which Statistics Canada noted still leaves that sector the furthest from a full recovery at 24.4 per cent, or 298,000 jobs, below pre-pandemic levels.

Notable gains were seen in health care, construction and educational services. That last gain was partially driven by Ontario, which led employment gains overall, moving its March break for schools to next week in a bid to slow the spread of COVID-19.

National employment figures released Friday morning outpaced the 259,000 gain seen in February that, at the time, whipped past expectations.

The March increase puts employment 296,000 shy of the pre-COVID level in February 2020, or roughly 1.5 per cent of pre-crisis levels.

It also sent the unemployment rate to 7.5 per cent, down from 8.2 per cent in February, bringing the rate to a pandemic-era low.

“Helped by recent decisions to ease COVID-19 related restrictions, the Canadian labour market followed up a strong February with another extraordinary showing in March,” said TD senior economist Sri Thanabalasingam.

“While this brought employment even closer to its pre-pandemic level, the next couple of months could prove challenging for Canada’s labour market.”

But there was also a note of concern under the eye-popping employment figures because of renewed lockdowns this month in the face of a third wave of the pandemic that could leave high-touch sectors that saw gains in March facing losses this month.

“Indeed, much of the hiring over the past couple of months has occurred in the sectors hardest hit by shutdowns,” wrote CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes. “But now, with stricter public health orders again necessary to curb the virus’s spread in many parts of the country, there’s reason to believe at least some of this progress will be reversed in the near future.”

The job numbers come just over a week before the federal government releases a budget where employment levels are expected to be used as a gauge for planned stimulus measures.

cjwilson@timescolonist.com

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