Employment in rural Ontario dropped 3.8 per cent in November, new statistics show.
There were about 24,000 fewer people employed in Ontario’s rural areas and small towns last month compared to the average employment numbers for the same month during the previous three years, according to findings from the Rural Ontario Institute.
“Overall, it is recessionary, but if you look back at the whole eight to nine months preceding that, it’s a pretty healthy number,” said Norman Ragetlie, the institute’s executive director.
The decline comes after multiple months of steady recovery in rural employment since the spring COVID-19 lockdowns clobbered jobs across the country.
From May onward, employment in rural Ontario has rebounded quicker than in urban areas. By September, employment numbers in rural Ontario were nearly at pre-pandemic levels.
Ragetlie credits the faster recovery to essential industries found in rural areas and small towns.
“One of the reasons rural wasn’t hit as hard and bounced back faster was that more jobs were in essential services” such as manufacturing, goods-producing and agriculture, he said.
Ragetlie said it’s not surprising to see employment numbers starting to plateau in the winter, especially as more COVID-19 restrictions began to come into effect in November.
The Rural Ontario Institute is a Guelph-based think tank that advocates for and offers programs to rural areas in the province.
The institute’s summary pulls data from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey.
In the November report, rural and small towns refer to places with a population of 10,000 or fewer.
Urban centres in Ontario also saw a decline in employment of 3.8 per cent in November.
Ontario’s 3.8 per cent decline in rural and small-town employment ranks the province third across Canada, with Manitoba seeing a 13.1 per cent decline and Alberta a 10.1 per cent decline.
Some industries hurt significantly in rural Ontario include health care and social assistance, which saw a decrease in employment of about 12,000; business, building and other support services, which dropped 7,000 jobs; and information, culture and recreation, which declined by 5,000 jobs.
Ragetlie said the job losses in health care and social assistance wouldn’t be hospital workers, but likely settings such as physiotherapy offices, which may be offering reduced services, or through the temporary closing of some adult day-programs.
The drop in recreation and culture employment is attributed to fewer jobs returning at museums, art galleries, live music venues and camps, which never rebounded fully amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Ragetlie said.
But construction in rural Ontario continues to be a bright spot. Employment numbers in the industry were up 11.8 per cent in November.
“It’s heartening and encouraging that this recession brought on by COVID did not appear to knock that sector back again,” Ragetlie said.
As the province continues its 28-day lockdown, Ragetlie said it will be important to watch how both retail and restaurants are impacted and to keep an eye out for longer-term consequences.
“I think this second wave may sink a few,” he said. “Our downtowns are going to look different.”
Max Martin, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press