157,000 new jobs in September get Canada's economy back above pre-pandemic level

·4 min read
Canada's economy has finally replaced the jobs it lost to the pandemic, new numbers from Statistics Canada on Friday suggest. (Samantha Nar/CBC - image credit)
Canada's economy has finally replaced the jobs it lost to the pandemic, new numbers from Statistics Canada on Friday suggest. (Samantha Nar/CBC - image credit)

Canada's economy added 157,000 new jobs last month, Statistics Canada says, enough to put employment numbers back above where they were before the pandemic started.

The jobs surge was more than twice as big as the 60,000 new jobs that economists were expecting.

It was also enough to push the jobless rate down two ticks to 6.9 per cent. That's the lowest unemployment rate since the pandemic started.

Before the pandemic, Canada's jobless rate was 5.6 per cent. It jumped up sharply in March, April and May of 2020, peaking at 13.7 per cent in May of last year, and has trended downward ever since.

While there are now the same number of jobs as there were before COVID-19 arrived in Canada, that doesn't necessarily mean people are working as much as they were before.

The number of people working less than half the hours they would normally do is still 218,000 people higher than were doing so in February 2020. And the total number of hours worked by all employees is still 1.5 per cent below the pre-pandemic level, despite there being more jobs now.

Economy digs itself out of pandemic job hole

Employment for women was a source of particular strength for the month, with 154,000 of the new jobs going to women. That means female employment has returned to its pre-COVID level, but there are still more than 100,000 fewer men with a full time job now than there were before. That's been somewhat offset, however, by an increase in part-time work among men.

Women bore the brunt of the pandemic job losses, prompting some watchers to dub the downturn a she-cession.

Aaliyah Beckford is one of millions of Canadian women who lost their job in the pandemic who has now managed to find work again.

The 23-year-old from Brampton, Ont., was working in retail when she was laid off in the early days of COVID-19. She said it was initially jarring but that she made the best of it by using her down time to pursue her dream of becoming a coder.

"It was the push I needed," she told CBC News in an interview. "It was disappointing at first, but it was also very motivating at the same time."

WATCH | Aaliyah Beckford says getting laid off was the jolt her career needed:

After completing a boot camp at a local school to learn new computer programming languages, she managed to land a job this summer

"I always knew, while working in retail, even before the pandemic, that it's not what I wanted to do forever. So I just told myself, you're not going to be a lawyer, but you're going to be a really cool software developer."

But long-term joblessness persists

Things worked out fine for Beckford and everyone else who found a job after losing one in the pandemic, but that doesn't mean that some job seekers aren't being left behind — even as the job market expands.

The number of people considered to be long-term unemployed — which means they haven't had a job for at least 27 weeks in a row, or about six months — is now twice was it was before the pandemic, at 389,000 people. That 's more than a quarter of everyone without a job.

Leah Nord with the Canadian Chamber of Commerce says that's a bad sign.

"It's important to celebrate the encouraging gains we are seeing in employment numbers over the past month, yet we also cannot afford to sweep under the rug those numbers," she said. "In the midst of a mass labour shortage, 27.3 per cent of unemployed Canadians are unaccounted for. Where did they go?"

"Canadians want to work; most are not unemployed by choice, so we need to dig down and find out exactly what's holding them back so we can make evidence-based decisions. Our full economic recovery depends on it."

Economist Sri Thanabalasingam with TD Bank agrees that long-term unemployment is concerning, but he's not ringing alarm bells just yet.

The glut of people having trouble getting back into the workforce "could be reflecting the difficulties faced by long-term unemployed Canadians in finding new jobs, perhaps due to a deterioration of skill sets," he said.

"That said, ongoing income support programs, such as the Canada recovery benefit, may also be a contributing factor. This program, among others, is expiring at the end of the month, which could lead to more people rejoining the workforce in October, that is, unless it is extended."

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