The P.E.I. economy had a banner year for job creation, posting records both for the total number of jobs and the number of full-time jobs.
The number of jobs passed 80,000 for the first time — reaching 80,100 in December. That included 68,200 full-time jobs. The unemployment rate, 7.9 per cent in December, has been below 10 per cent since March. Those 10 months are also a record.
"There has been some tremendous growth," said UPEI economist George Jia, adding, "I couldn't really say this actually surprised me."
That's because immigration has been pushing the Island economy to new heights, said Jia. The most obvious manifestation has been the construction boom, driven by a housing shortage. But immigrants are also creating new businesses.
Jim Sentance, also an economics professor at UPEI, agrees immigration is a major factor in the job boom, contrary to the suspicion that immigrants will come to the Island and take existing jobs.
"If you look at the immigration that we've been seeing, I think at one end of the labour market you get people coming in who are filling jobs that islanders have pretty well decided they don't want to do, things like fish plant jobs and so on," said Sentance.
"At the other end you've got entrepreneurs who are not taking other people's jobs. They're creating jobs."
The strong job market can create a positive feedback loop, said Sentance. More people in jobs means more people with money to spend, which can create more jobs.
Jia noted that job numbers in the retail sector are up more than average, an indication of a positive retail outlook.
Sentance said the strong numbers are also good for the provincial treasury, so the P.E.I. government has been able to avoid the civil service layoffs that have exacerbated falling employment in other provinces.
With another record year for immigration forecast for 2020, both Jia and Sentance expect more growth.
"As the housing shortage lasts," said Sentance. "I think if we ever get ahead of that then then you know the growth stuff will slow down a little bit."
Jia believes P.E.I. is also reaching a point where retention rates will start to improve. The Island has the worst retention of immigrants in the country, with fewer than one in five still in the province five years after arriving.
But despite that poor retention, communities are still growing.
Immigration key factor
"Once you have a sizable population of a certain ethnic group and then that group tend to grow even faster," said Jia.
"Because now you have a community and then people can, you know, settling into a more familiar or more comfortable place."
While immigration is a key factor, demographics and other trends are also at play in the P.E.I. economy. Jia sees this in the relatively high growth in health-care jobs, connected to an aging population, and a decline in manufacturing jobs, an industry that is increasing automated.
Good news for youth
For Sentance, one of the most positive lines in the jobs report is the one that shows P.E.I. with the lowest youth unemployment rate in the country.
The rate in December for people aged 15 to 24 was 8.4 per cent, compared to a national average of 11.1 per cent.
Sentance said this is also connected to demographic trends.
"Five or six years ago the number of people hitting university age … started into a fairly steep decline," he said.
"There's just not as many people in that age group. So if there are jobs that are sort of specific to people in that age group there's not as many people to fill it."
With more money floating around the economy pushing job growth in areas such as retail and food service, jobs traditionally filled by young people, the prospects for youth on the Island will likely continue to be good.
More P.E.I. news