Canada lost more jobs amid third-wave restrictions

Shelby Thevenot
Published: June 8, 2021

Employment in Canada fell for a second month in a row as provinces ramped up public health measures to flatten the curve on the third wave of coronavirus cases.

Statistics Canada held its most recent Labour Force Survey during the week of May 9 to May 15. This monthly survey monitors labour market conditions, and how they vary by geography and demographics.

Canada lost 68,000 jobs in May, about 79 per cent of these jobs were in part-time work. Ontario and Nova Scotia accounted for most of the overall decline, as public health measures in the two provinces affected many non-essential businesses.

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Early on in the month, both Alberta and Manitoba closed personal care services, recreational facilities and in-person dining. They also limited retail store capacity, and closed schools to in-classroom learning.

New Brunswick and Quebec were the outliers who eased restrictions in some regions.

For the second consecutive month, Saskatchewan was the only province to have some employment growth, with 4,100 new jobs added to the economy.

Employment loss for recent immigrants slightly more than Canadians

Recent immigrants, who had been in Canada for more than five years, saw employment rates decrease 2.1 percentage points, while Canadian-born workers were down 2 percentage points even compared with pre-pandemic levels.

For very recent immigrants who landed within the previous five years, employment was down 11.2 per cent in May compared with February 2020. This population fell 15 per cent thanks to travel restrictions and other COVID-19 measures. The result was immigration fell to its lowest level since 1998.

Because the population of very recent immigrants fell more sharply than their job losses, the employment rate among this population continued on an upward trend, surpassing February 2020 levels by 2.8 percentage points.

Unemployment higher among visible minorities

Canada's overall unemployment rate was little changed at 8.2 per cent, but the rates were disproportionate along racial lines.

The unemployment rate for visible minority Canadians rose to 11.4 per cent, while white Canadians saw unemployment rates dip down to 7 per cent. Asian ethnic groups saw the highest increases in unemployment. The survey reported Chinese Canadians had the highest unemployment rate at 12.3 per cent. Among South Asian Canadians the unemployment rate was 10.8 per cent, and unemployment for Filipino Canadians was at 10 per cent even.

The rise in unemployment among these groups comes amid a wave of anti-Asian racism in Canada, following the onset of the pandemic. Vancouver alone was reporting a 717% increase in hate crimes targeting Asians. Toronto saw hate-driven assaults double from 25 to 50 in 2020. The most common victims were among Chinese and Indian communities.

The employment rate for Indigenous women was the furthest below pre-pandemic levels. Although Indigenous men and women were hit equally hard by the initial lockdown, Indigenous men rebounded in the summer, and again starting in March — remaining lower than the rate among non-Indigenous men.

Indigenous women did not see a rebound in 2020, and their employment rate remained about 3.3 percentage points below pre-pandemic levels in May.

Overall, the number of people who were seeking employment, or who were on temporary layoff held steady. The unemployment rate of the entire population remained lower than the recent peak of 9.4 per cent from January 2021. It was also considerably lower than its peak of 13.7 per cent in May 2020.

Student employment making recovery

Student employment was ahead of 2020, but still behind 2019. Last month, the unemployment rate among returning students was 23.1 per cent, compared with 40 per cent in May 2020 and 13.7 per cent in May 2019. Statistics Canada considers "returning students" to be youth aged 15 to 24 who attended school full time in March and who intend to return in September.

The labour market conditions faced by students drove employment down 1.2 per cent among youth aged 15 to 24, representing 27,000 jobs.

The student participation rate — that is, who were either employed or unemployed but looking for work — was 10 per cent higher than May 2020, but still 5.2 per cent lower than May 2019.

Students employment rate was lower for women and visible minorities. The employment rate of female students was twice as far from May 2019 levels compared to their male counterparts. Employment for students who identified as visible minorities was 13 percentage points lower than for white students.

Looking ahead to June

The economy is expected to improve this month. As the third wave comes to an end and as more Canadians get vaccinated, public health measures should continue to roll back. Already, Ontario lifted its stay-at-home order, B.C. resumed many indoor and outdoor activities, and Quebec ended its nightly curfew.

Canada experienced a sharp economic rebound in the summer of 2020. There was a difference of almost 1,000 jobs between May and June last year. With 75 per cent of Canadians expected to be partially vaccinated by June 21, we can look forward to a more normal summer.

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