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Columbia Journal logoVolume Nine, Number Two    April 2004    www.columbiajournal.ca

    Jobless Rate Climbs as BC Economy Lags

    Marco Procaccini

    The number of people out of work in B.C. was up last month – to 7.9 per cent from 7.3 per cent in January.

    The monthly Statistics Canada report says B.C. lost 36,000 jobs in February, with the retail and construction the hardest hit.

    In Vancouver, the unemployment rate rose from 6.2 per cent in January to 6.3 per cent in February.  Victoria's jobless picture also worsened – from 5.5 per cent in January to 5.6 per cent last month.

    “The largest employment loss in British Columbia was in retail trade, and may be the result of weaker consumer spending over this past holiday season,” Statscan said. “Employment also dropped in construction, following consecutive monthly declines in housing starts. The employment decline in February pushed the unemployment rate up by 0.6 percentage points to 7.9 per cent.”
    Despite a brief increase in job creation in the last quarter of 2003, Statscan reports show BC’s economy has been slowing down relative to the rest of the country, with unemployment continuing on an overall rise, mostly among men.

    BC was also hardest hit by rising youth unemployment, now at 14.1 per cent. Despite the usual pre-Christmas hiring spurt among youth, the report says youth faced a dismal job climate for all of last year—the worst being in BC.

    Nationally, the unemployment rate held steady at 7.4 per cent, with the loss of more than 21,000 jobs. Economists had been looking for an increase of at least 15,000 jobs.

    Across the country, growth in full-time employment continued for adult women, pushing up overall employment for this group by 20,000 in February. Their unemployment rate fell 0.2 percentage points to 5.8 per cent. Since August 2003, employment among adult women has grown more rapidly (+2.1 per cent) than among adult men (+1.0 per cent), whose employment level was little changed in February for a second consecutive month. The unemployment rate among adult men edged up 0.1 percentage points to 6.3 per cent.

    The jobless rate climbed by an estimated 31,000 positions in health care and social assistance. The decrease was mainly observed among women in Ontario. Despite this drop, the report says the health care and social assistance sector has been following an upward trend since the summer of 2001.
    Weakness in manufacturing continued in February, with employment little changed (-12,000) for a third consecutive month. This leaves manufacturing jobs down 83,000 (-3.5 per cent) since November 2002, when the downward trend began.

    “Following strong job growth in the past two years, employment has weakened in the construction sector, with cumulative losses of 18,000 jobs in January and February,” the report said. “The loss observed in February was concentrated in Quebec and British Columbia, while Ontario accounted for all of the decline in January.”

    Despite continued cuts and austerity across the country, employment in educational services actually increased by 20,000 in February, spread over a number of provinces. The growth occurred mainly in elementary and secondary education. Despite this increase, employment in educational services has changed little over the past year. Statscan said.

    The transportation and warehousing sectors experienced a job increased of 16,000 in February, almost all in Ontario. This continues the upward trend for this sector that began in the summer of 2003.

    In February, a drop of 21,000 self-employed workers and a slight decrease in the number of employees in the private sector more than offset the increase of 24,000 employees in the public sector. Since August 2003, the number of public sector employees has grown by 3.1 per cent (+92,000), exceeding the 1.1 per cent (+118,000) growth in the number of private sector employees.

    As a result of the weakness in construction and retail trade in February, the number of self-employed workers has now returned to about the same level as in August 2003 (-0.4 per cent).

    Following two consecutive monthly increases, employment levels in Ontario have stayed roughly the same so far this year, and the unemployment rate remained at 6.6 per cent. A sharp decrease in jobs in the health care and social assistance sector was offset by increases in transportation and warehousing and in retail and wholesale trade.

    In Quebec, employment was little changed for the second consecutive month. Gains in retail and wholesale trade were offset by a decrease in construction in February. The unemployment rate fell 0.3 percentage points in February to 8.8 per cent, the result of a decline in labour force participation.

    P.E.I. saw the biggest jobless jump from January to February of nearly one per cent, while New Brunswick saw a similar drop in its rate.

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