After eleven consecutive monthly gains, B.C. employment drops sharply in April

May 14, 2021
Ken Peacock

The number of people working in British Columbia fell by a whopping 43,000 (-1.6%) in April, the first decrease since the job market started healing last May. Losses were mostly in part-time work and among younger workers. Consistent with circuit breaker lockdowns implemented across the province ahead of the Labour Force Survey reference week, nearly half of all job losses were in the food and accommodation sector.

In the previous month strong job growth lifted employment above its pre-COVID level, but April’s retreat pulled the total number of employed back below the pre-pandemic threshold. The adjacent figure (a screen shot from BCBC’s new Economic Dashboard) shows the most recent provincial decline and a similar drop at the national level. It also shows that B.C.’s employment recovery has been stronger than Canada’s.

April’s decline in B.C. was due mostly to losses in the accommodation and food services sector (where jobs plunged by a massive 12.3% in one month) and the information, culture and recreation industry (where employment similarly tumbled 12.8%). Tighter restrictions and lockdowns contributed to losses in these two consumer-facing sectors, totalling 38,000 fewer positions (accounting for 9 out of every 10 job losses in April).

Because so many people work in educational services, the smaller 2.5% monthly decline in that sector translated into 4,800 fewer jobs. And just over 4,000 jobs were shed in construction.

The figure to the below (again “snipped” from the Dashboard) tracks the change in employment in the province’s accommodation and food services industry, benchmarked to the start of the pandemic. The impact of tighter restrictions in April is evident. Following the precipitous 50% plus drop last spring, jobs in the sector had to a large extent recovered and were down “only” 7% or so by late 2020 compared to February. But amid growing fears of new variants, rising case loads and much more restrictive lockdowns, job numbers have again fallen. B.C.’s sector has fared somewhat better than the Canadian-wide industry, at least until recently.

The final figure shows employment in B.C.’s (and Canada’s) information, culture and recreation sector. In B.C., the industry had more than regained last February’s employment level, until April’s sizable loss.

The recent job losses point to the likelihood of an uneven and bumpy economic recovery. They also underscore the reality that a more complete labour market recovery requires widespread vaccinations and a full and sustained re-opening of all economic activity. When that happens, we expect the job numbers in recently hard-hit sectors to rebound.

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