B.C.’s employment picture continues to improve

November 10, 2020
Ken Peacock

The number of people working in B.C. rose 34,000 in October. This is a strong gain, especially considering it follows a rise of 50,000 jobs the previous month. With six consecutive months of job growth following the re-opening of consumer-facing businesses in the spring, employment in B.C. is now down “just” 61,000 compared to where it stood in February. This translates into a relatively modest 2.4% decline from pre-pandemic levels. The unemployment rate now sits at 8%, down from more than 13% a few months back.

Figure 1

While October’s report reflects more good news about the provincial job market, digging below the headline number reveals some areas of concern. A close look at the data also shows uneven job growth dynamics and surprising buoyancy in a few industries.

Perhaps the most notable soft spot is that October’s report further reinforced the rotation towards part time employment. Only 8,000 of the jobs added last month were full-time. There are still 100,000 fewer people working full-time than in February, a 5% drop. On the other hand, part-time employment is now 38,000 higher than in February, which is a 7% increase.

Figure 2

Divergent growth trajectories across industries are also very evident. Job losses are still widespread in sectors linked to international tourism and some consumer-facing industries. In contrast, some sectors experienced few job losses and are now growing and creating new jobs (as opposed to simply re-hiring furloughed workers).

The figure below summarizes changes in employment since February for three industry groupings. The hardest-hit group includes industries related to international travel, face-to-face consumer services, audience-attended events as well as construction. Collectively, this set of industries suffered deep job losses in the spring, with employment down more than 30% at its low point. The number of people working in these industries is still 75,000 below the level back in February. The re-hiring process in this group is waning. In October, just 3,500 jobs were added in this group, a weak gain considering employment is still 10% below February’s level.

Employment continued to edge higher across a second group of moderately impacted industries. But here too some of the initial rehiring momentum appears to be ebbing. Collectively, these industries added just 4,100 jobs in October, and employment is still down by more than 4% compared to February (38,000 fewer jobs).

Industries where job losses in the spring were “limited” have seen employment fully recover and rise to new highs in recent months. The group added almost 27,000 jobs in October, with six industries collectively accounting for most October’s overall job growth. There are now 47,000 more people employed in these industries than there were in February. A 5.4% increase would be a very strong gain over any eight-month period but it’s even more impressive in current circumstances. By definition, these are all new jobs (rather than rehires) that have been added since February.

Figure 3

The final figure shows job growth in each of the six “limited impact” industries. B.C.’s resource industries are a prominent part of the new job story. Agriculture and forestry, mining and natural gas have all added a substantial number of new jobs in absolute terms and have led the way in growth rates by a wide margin. Manufacturing has created the largest number of jobs since February. This reflects downstream processing of resources as well as more non-resource manufacturing activity in the lower mainland. Professional, scientific, and technical services is the second largest source of new B.C. jobs. The gain reflects the COVID-related jump in demand for computer services as well as professional services, such as accounting and legal services.

Figure 4

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