A solid gain brings B.C. employment close to year-ago levels...but the labour market will take longer to fully heal

Following two months of negligible gains, an impressive 26,600 jobs were added to B.C.’s workforce in February. This is a welcome increase that brings total employment in the province nearly back to last February’s pre-pandemic level. Employment is down a modest 0.6%, or just 15,000 jobs from last year. In the broadest sense the labour market has mostly recovered, especially considering that at the depths of the shutdown last spring 400,000 people had lost jobs.

Figure 1

But this does not mean the labour market has healed. The aggregate numbers hide many weaknesses in the job market and the unevenness of the recovery. Full-time employment, for example, is still down 1.6% from year-ago levels (33,000 jobs). This is not evident in the overall numbers because part time employment is up 3.2% Y/Y.

Figure 2

In addition, younger workers remain disproportionately impacted by the COVID shock. Even though February saw a welcome rise in jobs for young people, employment for persons 15-24 years is still down 2.5% Y/Y. For those aged 55 and over, employment has edged lower for several months and currently sits 1.6% below last February’s level. In contrast, a solid gain (13,700) pushed employment for people aged 25-54 slightly above year-ago levels.

Figure 3

February saw healthy employment gains for both males (10,700) and females (15,900). As evident in the figure below, the pace of employment recovery for females and males over the past year is mixed. Compared to year-ago levels, male employment is down just 0.3%, while employment for females is down 0.9%. The gap is smaller than some recent media stories suggest.

Figure 4

The impact across age cohorts, however, is very different. Among people of core working age, female employment is up 0.6% (5,000) compared to February 2020. The number of females over the age of 55 who are working is down 0.7% (1,900). The biggest COVID impact is among young females – in this cohort, employment is still down a striking 8.2% (14,200).

Employment for core working age males is down slightly from year ago levels. Employment among males aged 25-54 regained year-ago levels a couple months ago (and females in the same cohort a couple months before that). Employment among older males is down 2.4% (8,000), the second largest decline among the cohorts shown in the figure below. Finally, employment among young males is up 3.1% (5,400) compared to year-ago levels. Another difference is that jobs for young males advanced more or less steadily since September while job growth for young females has been close to nil.

Figure 5

While regaining last year’s employment level is an important marker in the economic recovery process, this overlooks the thousands of graduates moving into the workforce last year or the in-migrants moving to the province. The size of the labour force consisting of younger workers grew around 4% last year and for the core working age it rose by 1.6%. The result is that unemployment rates are higher across all age cohorts, even those where the number of jobs has regained or surpassed year-ago levels. The biggest jump in unemployment rates is among younger people, especially females.

Figure 6

The good news is that aggregate employment in the province has mostly recovered. The remaining jobs shortfall is concentrated among young female workers, and to a lesser extent older workers. The fact that core working age employment – for males and females – has fully recovered is a promising sign. But getting back to full employment will require a more complete reopening, the return of international travel, and a revival of the tourism sector.