Quick Take

Canada adds 303,100 jobs in March, but dark clouds are on the horizon

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The Conference Board of Canada’s economist Liam Daly offers the following insights on March’s Labour Force Survey (LFS):

The labour force survey brings news of employment growth across Canada, pushing the unemployment rate to a new low since the onset of the pandemic. Notable employment gains in the retail sector and in Ontario fueled the jobs recovery in March. However, since the survey results were obtained, lockdown measures have been tightened in several provinces to counter the number of COVID-19 cases. We expect that this will be reflected in the LFS release next month.

  • Building on solid gains in February, March’s labour force survey reports a further significant rise in employment with an additional 303,100 jobs added to the economy.
  • This growth brought employment to within 1.5 per cent of pre-pandemic levels seen in February 2020. The additional employment included 175,400 new full-time jobs and 127,800 part-time jobs.
  • With the labour market recovery closely tied to COVID-19 restrictions, the progress reflects the easing of restrictions in many regions of Canada at the beginning of March.
  • The sizable employment gains resulted in a 0.7 per cent decline in the unemployment rate, bringing it to 7.5 per cent—a new low since the onset of the pandemic.
  • The bounce back of employment in the wholesale and retail trade sector from the second wave of the pandemic continued as employment in the sector grew by 3.3 per cent. After big losses over the winter the sector has responded well to the easing of public health restrictions with employment in the industry now within touching distance of pre-pandemic levels.
  • Similarly, educational services recorded substantial employment growth for a second consecutive month. Employment in that industry expanded by 2.4 per cent, reflecting the increased need for support staff in schools to keep those establishments safe and open for students to attend classes in-person.
  • Elsewhere in the public sector, employment in the health and social services sector grew by 1.9 per cent and has now surpassed pre-pandemic levels.
  • Employment gains were recorded in all provinces except Saskatchewan where employment remained unchanged. The provincial government in the prairie province announced an extension of public health measures in the middle of February, stalling the province’s labour market recovery last month.
  • Among the Atlantic provinces, Newfoundland and Labrador stood out, recovering 13,4000 jobs as lockdown measures were eased. This largely offsets the significant decline experienced in February. Elsewhere in the region, gains were more modest yet moved in the right direction as employment grew by 1,300 in Prince Edward Island, 1,600 in Nova Scotia and 400 in New Brunswick.
  • In Eastern Canada, Quebec added 25,900 new jobs as restrictions in several regions outside the urban centres were relaxed. In Ontario, where stay-at-home orders were lifted across the province, employment rose by 182,300 bringing the job counts in both provinces to the highest level since the pandemic began.
  • Manitoba (+6,300), Alberta (+37,100) and British Columbia (+35,000) all reached historically high levels of employment, as the number of jobs in those provinces has surpassed their pre-pandemic levels.
  • Of the goods-producing sectors in the economy, employment in the construction industry grew by 1.8 per cent, a reflection of strong demand in the sector from both residential and industrial segments. Employment growth in the manufacturing sector remained roughly constant at 0.5 per cent, allowing the industry to eclipse pre-pandemic employment levels of last February.
  • Of the services-producing sectors, the information, culture and recreation sector, which had been in a state of steady decline over the previous five months, responded energetically to the easing of restrictions with a 9.4 per cent increase in employment.
  • Meanwhile, the accommodation and food services industry, added a second month of growth as employment increased by 2.4 per cent. While this is welcome news, employment in the industry remains roughly 300,000 below pre-pandemic levels.
  • This morning’s results support our forecast of a return to employment as restrictions are eased, particularly among sectors most affected by the restrictions imposed during the second wave of the pandemic.
  • While there is reason to celebrate some of the milestones reached this month, the survey results are not capturing some of the additional lockdown measures imposed more recently.
  • Growing COVID-19 case numbers are once again forcing the tightening of restrictions in several regions. Most notably, the Government of Ontario enacted an emergency brake and subsequently a stay-at-home order in the first week of April. Similarly, Quebec and British Columbia have also imposed new measures to reduce virus transmission.
  • As we have seen, these measures tend to drain energy from the labour market. Therefore, it is likely we will see a negative response among certain industries, which will be reflected in the survey results next month.

COVID-19: Get all the insights

Liam Daly

Liam Daly


Kiefer Van Mulligen

Kiefer Van Mulligen


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