January unemployment in Canada reached highest level since August, 2020

Shelby Thevenot
Published: February 8, 2021

Tighter coronavirus restrictions across Canada drove employment down in January, according to the new Labour Force Survey.

Statistics Canada examined the Canadian labour force during the week of January 10 to 16. Coronavirus numbers had just started coming down from an all-time high. Ontario had closed non-essential retail businesses. Quebec had also closed non-essential retail, and implemented a curfew on January 14, which affected the operating hours of some businesses. Alberta and Manitoba closed in-person dining, recreation facilities, personal care services, and had restrictions on retail businesses.

Some restrictions had eased in the Atlantic provinces. Prince Edward Island reopened in-person dining as well as recreational and cultural facilities. Restrictions on in-person dining were eased in Halifax, Nova Scotia just days before the Labour Force Survey took place.

Employment losses were entirely in part-time work, and were concentrated in the Quebec and Ontario retail trade sectors. Employment fell by 213,000 jobs in January, following a drop of 53,000 in December.

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There were also more Canadians working from home in January than there were in April, following Canada's first lockdown.

The unemployment rate was at 9.4 per cent, the highest since August when unemployment was at 10.2 per cent.

Job losses were highly concentrated in Ontario and Quebec. Employment also fell in Newfoundland and Labrador, but rose in Alberta, Manitoba, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. Employment held steady in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick.

Industries that were affected by public health measures were the most affected. The accommodation and food services sector took the biggest hit. Retail as well as information, culture and recreation also saw losses.

Employment rose in construction driven by gains in Quebec and Alberta.

The number of people working in health care and social assistance increased back to pre-COVID levels. This comes following two months of little change in employment levels. The disruption in immigration numbers caused a relatively high level of job vacancies in health care. Immigrants make up a significant portion of Canada's health sector. In January, immigrants made up 41.3 per cent of nurses aides and orderlies, and 42.8 per cent of specialist physicians in Canada.

Employment losses in January were more than twice as large among youth between the ages of 15 and 19 than those aged 20 to 24. Core aged women, between ages 25 and 54, experienced more job loss than core-aged men.

The employment rate for very recent immigrants continued to hold steady, because fewer new immigrants are coming to Canada during the pandemic. The employment rate for immigrants who landed more than five years ago dropped slightly to 57.5 per cent. For people born in Canada, the drop in employment was a little steeper, but the rate remained higher at 58.7 per cent.

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