Canada adds 259,000 jobs in February, unemployment at lowest rate since March 2020

Canada adds 259,000 jobs in February, unemployment at lowest rate since March 2020-Milenio Stadium-Canada
A woman checks out a jobs advertisement sign during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto last April. The country added 259,000 jobs in February 2021. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

Canada added 259,000 jobs in February, recovering most of the jobs it lost in the previous two months, Statistics Canada said on Friday.

Canada lost 213,000 jobs in January as lockdowns took a giant bite out of the job market

It’s the biggest increase since September 2020.

The unemployment rate stands at 8.2 per cent, down from 9.4 per cent, the lowest rate since March 2020, the month the COVID-19 pandemic was declared.

The results handily exceeded analysts’ expectations of 75,000 added jobs and an unemployment rate of 9.2 per cent.

“February marked 12 months of unprecedented changes in the Canadian labour market resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency’s Labour Force Survey says. Compared with 12 months earlier, there were 599,000 fewer people employed and 406,000 more people working less than half their usual hours.

That puts employment 3.1 per cent below pre-pandemic levels, while long-term unemployment (27 weeks or more) fell by 9.7 per cent from a record high of 512,000 in January.

Both part-time and full-time work increased, while the number of self-employed workers was the same.

Gains concentrated in lower-paying jobs

Statistics Canada said February’s numbers were strongly influenced by the easing of pandemic restrictions in such provinces as Quebec, Alberta, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, as well as parts of Ontario.

The gains were concentrated in Ontario and Quebec and in jobs that pay $17.50 an hour or less, and in industries that were most affected by restrictions in January: retail, accommodation and food services.

Closed sign-Milenio Stadium-Canada
A closed sign is seen on Queen Street West in Toronto last March. Statistics Canada said February’s improving numbers were largely influenced by the easing of pandemic restrictions in certain areas. (Laura Howells/CBC)

“A lot of this is the January numbers reversing, but there were also some full-time jobs being added, which shows improvement in the economy,” said Andrew Kelvin, chief Canada strategist at TD Securities.

“It’s a very positive set of numbers and suggests a quicker recovery for the broader economy.”

Among workers who worked at least half their usual hours, the number working at locations other than home increased by 600,000 as schools and other workplaces reopened in several provinces, the agency said.

Young women disproportionately affected

While women aged 24 to 54 did relatively well, with employment increasing 1.3 percentage points to December levels, year-over-year losses among young women, especially teenagers, were nearly double those seen among young men.

There were 111,000 fewer women working in retail than 12 months earlier, while employment among men in that sector has changed little.

Statistics Canada noted that women are more concentrated in public-facing jobs such as sales reps and sales support workers that are more affected by public health measures.

The employment rate among Indigenous women was down 6.8 percentage points year-over-year and was unchanged for Indigenous men.

The federal government is keeping a close eye on the labour market, suggesting it will use jobs as a gauge for planned stimulus measures to be unveiled in a spring budget.

Bank of Canada likely to back away from bond purchases

So too is the Bank of Canada monitoring employment, noting the uneven impacts of job losses in its reasoning this week for holding its key policy rate at 0.25 per cent.

Analysts said the blockbuster job gain shows that excess capacity is closing far faster than the Bank of Canada’s expectations.

“I would be surprised if they don’t signal fairly soon that they are starting to back further away from their bond purchase program,” said Derek Holt, vice-president of capital market economics at Scotiabank.

The Bank of Canada has made clear that even as other parts of the economy rebound, it remains very concerned about the high number of people still out of work because of the pandemic.

The Canadian dollar, meanwhile, strengthened to 1.2512 to the greenback, or 79.92 US cents, after the data.

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