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Northeast B.C. unemployment at 5.8% in October

There were 36,000 employed and 2,200 unemployed, according to the labour force survey

Northeast B.C. posted an unemployment rate of 5.8% in October, according to the latest estimates from Statistics Canada.

There were 36,000 employed and 2,200 unemployed in the region last month, according to the labour force survey. 

Year-over-year, employment is down from last October, when 39,400 were employed. That’s due to a drop in the region’s estimated labour force, down from 41,700 last year to 38,200 last month, as well as a 6.9 percentage point drop in the labour participation rate, from 76.1% last year to 69.2% this year.

Unemployment at this time last year was posted at 5.5%, with 2,300 unemployed.

A recent analysis by the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia (CPABC) noted job losses in the region have been concentrated among full-time positions, which were down roughly 10.7% from September 2021 compared to September 2019. Part-time jobs were up by 8.8% over that period.

“The sustained decline in labour participation is troubling as our region has relied on its robust working age population to drive the economy,” said analyst Ben Sander, a partner at Sander Rose Bone Grindle, in a release.

“It has also become a growing challenge for businesses looking to hire, particularly in the service sector whose workforce declined significantly over the past year. Conversely, gains in the construction industry workforce helped offset some of the job losses.”

Northeast B.C. employment figures 2019-2021. (Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia)

Unemployment in B.C., October 2021:

  • North Coast and Nechako - 7.9

  • Cariboo - 6.7

  • Lower Mainland Southwest - 6.5

  • Kootenay - 6.0

  • Northeast - 5.8

  • Vancouver Island and Coast - 5.0

  • Thompson-Okanagan - 4.5

B.C.’s economy as a whole expanded by 10,400 jobs last month, while the unemployment rate fell by 0.3 percentage points to 5.6% compared with September. Only Manitoba has a lower unemployment rate among the provinces 5.3%.

Employment in wholesale and retail trade grew with the addition of 20,000 jobs ahead of the holiday shopping season, as did healthcare with 7,200 jobs. StatsCan’s survey was conducted October 10-16, before thousands of B.C. healthcare workers were placed on unpaid leave beginning October 26 following a vaccination mandate from the province.

But the professional, scientific and technical services sector — the StatsCan classification under which the tech industry falls — lost a whopping 12,800 jobs despite overwhelming demand for those high-paying jobs.

And even as the economy opened further with the additional loosening of COVID-19 restrictions last month, the hospitality sector (accommodation and food services) shed 8,000 jobs. BMO chief economist Douglas Porter attributed the national erosion of that sector (-27,000 jobs) to “extreme challenges finding workers.”

In Northeast B.C., the CPABC noted service sector employment in the region had fallen by 14.5% in September 2021 compared to September 2020. While hospitality employment has been flat over the past year, it remained down by 26.7% compared to September 2019.

“It is clear from the region’s employment data that our economy has not fully recovered from the steep recession in 2020,” Sander said. “To expedite our recovery, it will be important to ensure that barriers to re-entering the labour market are minimized, such as through skills training and access to childcare. This will simultaneously help residents looking to get back in the labour market, and businesses that are trying to fill employment gaps.”

Meanwhile, B.C. also saw gains in agriculture (+2,300 jobs), construction (+2,000 jobs) and information, culture and recreation (+3,400 jobs), the latter of which is associated with the film and TV sector.

Additional losses hit business, building and other support services (-5,800 jobs), and natural resources (-3,600 jobs).

Nationally, Canada overall added 31,000 jobs, while the national unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points to 6.7% — numbers BMO chief economist Porter described in a note as “ho-hum.”

“Labour markets have still not fully recovered from the shock of 2020, but they are getting closer and reports of labour shortages are not likely to dissipate any time soon,” RBC senior economist Nathan Janzen said in a note.

— with files from Business in Vancouver

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