Canadian Employment Holds Steady in March; Unemployment Moves Higher

On Friday, Statistics Canada (StatCan) released its Labor Force Survey (LFS) for March. Employment was virtually unchanged in March, down 2,200, following increases of 41,000, or 0.2%, in February and 37,000, or 0.2%, in January.

For the fourth consecutive month, private sector employment was little changed; it has held steady for eight of the nine months since June 2023. Public sector employment was also little changed. From March 2023 to March 2024, employment has grown at a faster rate in the public sector—up 4.8%, or 202,000 positions—than in the private sector—up 1.1%, or 14,000 positions.

Year-over-year, the employment rate has decreased by 0.9 percentage points, as employment growth of 324,000 positions, or 1.6%, has been outpaced in the population aged 14 and older, which is up 1.0 million, or 3.2%.

The unemployment rate increased 0.3 percentage point to 6.1% in March, bringing the cumulative increase over the past 12 months to 1.0 percentage point.

The monthly increase in the unemployment rate in March was driven by an increase of 60,000, or 4.8%, in people searching for work or on temporary layoff. This brought the total number of unemployed people to 1.3 million, an increase of 247,000, or 23.0%, compared with 12 months earlier.

The increase in unemployment came from three specific sectors in March:

  1. Employment in accommodation and food services declined by 27,000, or 2.4%. Employment in this sector was little changed from a year earlier and was down by 118,000, or 9.6%, from its pre-pandemic level in February 2020.
  2. Employment in wholesale and retail trade decreased by 23,000, or 0.8%. Despite an increase in January, employment in this industry has generally trended down since August 2023, with a net decrease of 76,000, or 2.5%, over the period.
  3. Employment in professional, scientific, and technical services fell by 20,000, or 1.0%, offsetting February’s increase of 18,000. Over the past 12 months, employment in this industry has grown by 58,000, or 3.1%, with most of the growth occurring from July to December 2023.

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