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Northeast unemployment still lowest in B.C.

B.C. added 26,600 jobs in February, mostly part-time positions
FSJRCMP-Feb2021
A crane hoists materials at the new Fort St. John RCMP detachment under construction, Feb. 24, 2021.

Employment in northeast B.C. was down 400 jobs in February.

There were 39,700 employed and 1,800 unemployed last month, pushing the unemployment rate up marginally to 4.3%, still the lowest in all of B.C. 

Unemployment was at 4.1% in January, when 40,100 were employed. Year-over-year, unemployment is up from last February, when it was too low to be reported. But so too is employment, when 39,400 were employed at this time last year.

Across B.C., the province added 26,600 jobs, mostly part-time positions, with the unemployment rate dropping more than a full percentage point between January and February, from 8% to 6.9%.

The vast majority of jobs added — 22,600 to be precise — were part-time positions.

The biggest beneficiaries of last month’s gains were wholesale and retail trade (+14,500 jobs) followed by educational services (+9,300 jobs); other services (+7,900 jobs); and professional, scientific and technical services (+7,400 jobs).

Losses were most deeply felt in manufacturing (-6,600 jobs); business, building and other support services (-6,100 jobs); and information, culture and recreation (-2,200 jobs).

Unemployment in B.C.:

  • North Coast and Nechako - 8.5

  • Cariboo - 7.9

  • Lower Mainland Southwest - 7.6

  • Thompson-Okanagan - 7.5

  • Vancouver Island and Coast - 7.1

  • Kootenay - 6.9

  • Northeast - 4.3

B.C. wasn’t alone in rebounding in February as Canada added 259,000 jobs following January’s drop of 213,000 jobs. 

The country’s unemployment rate fell 1.2 percentage points to 8.2%.

RBC senior economist Nathan Janzen said in a note the easing of virus restrictions accounted for the quicker-than-expected rebound in employment last month.

But B.C.’s restrictions remained looser than other province’s like Ontario and Quebec over the winter. Despite that, job growth on the West Coast had still been trending downward in December (+3,800 jobs) and January (+2,800 jobs) before last month’s big rebound.

Earlier this week economists at RBC updated the bank’s forecast for B.C.’s economic prospects in 2021, noting the prospect of vaccines would likely mean 5.9% real GDP growth this year rather than the 5.1% growth that was forecast back in December.

“The big February jobs bounce is a pleasant surprise, reinforcing the broader theme that the Canadian economy fared better than widely expected in a challenging winter,” BMO chief economist Douglas Porter wrote in a note. 

“True, there is still plenty of wood to chop before the job market is close to normal, with [national] employment down 599,000 from the pre-pandemic peak and the unemployment rate 2.5 percentage points higher than a year ago. But a few more months like February could change the conversation rapidly on the pace of the recovery.”

And while Porter said the latest data portends well for March’s job numbers, TD senior economist Sri Thanabalasingam said the outlook beyond this month is somewhat hazier.

“As the vaccine rollout is only now beginning to accelerate, there is a chance that a third wave of the pandemic results in another round of restrictions, thereby slowing the labour market recovery,” he wrote in a note.

“The Bank of Canada will take note of today's release. This adds another datapoint to the growing list of indicators suggesting that the economic recovery is progressing ahead of schedule. If the vaccine rollout mitigates the risk of a third wave of the pandemic, there may be less need for maintaining the overnight rate at 0.25% through to 2023.”

The country’s central bank revealed earlier this week it was standing pat on the benchmark rate, keeping it at 0.25%.

—with files from Tyler Orton/Business in Vancouver

Email Managing Editor Matt Preprost at editor@ahnfsj.ca.