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Getting to work

Getting to work

Almost everywhere in the world, the job market has been hit hard by the economic crisis. But within the exclusive club of countries that have withstood the storm, Canada is sitting pretty... Will it last?

Two tenths of one percent. That doesn’t seem like much, but it’s enough to have given economists food for thought in recent weeks. This past March, the unemployment rate rose from 7.0% to 7.2% in Canada, while some 55,000 jobs were lost (51,000 jobs were created in February). This was particularly noteworthy because it was the largest decrease in employment since the downturn in 2009.

In the coming months, the figures will tell us whether this is a trend or an anomaly. In either case, this seems like a good time to take stock of how the situation has evolved since 2008.

Follow along!

Where things stand

Where do things stand now and how do they compare? An overview of the latest data from Statistics Canada reveals that there is a very uneven distribution of jobs among economic sectors, which translates into strong disparities among provinces.

Unemployment rate in Canada

If you live in Saskatchewan, Alberta or Manitoba, you are in a select group within the OECD, along with countries such as Norway, Switzerland, Japan and Austria, where the unemployment rate is under 5%. On the other hand, if you live in Newfoundland and Labrador or Prince Edward Island, you are more likely to understand what the citizens of Ireland or Portugal are going through. The following table gives some idea of the situation.

Harmonized unemployment rates

This table also shows that at the end of February the unemployment rate was 7.0% in Canada, compared to 7.7% in the United States, 8.0% in the OECD as a whole, 10.9% in the European Union and 12%, more specifically, for the group of 17 countries that use the euro as their currency.

A good trend for Canada over the past three years

This state of things is the result of a drastic change in unemployment rates all over the world since the 2008 crisis. As we can see here, 2009 was a tipping point, with Canada’s relative performance quickly shifting from bad to better and the spreads tending to widen in Canada’s favour since then.

Changes in harmonized unemployment rates

Beyond the unemployment rate

But it’s important to keep in mind that the total unemployment rate is only one of the criteria generally used to compare the performance of different countries when it comes to employment. Among other things, economists also use the long-term unemployment rate, unemployment rates by age or class, employment rates, total hours worked per year and average annual earnings.

According to Statistics Canada, this country’s performance for most of the indicators is either average or above average, to the extent that Canada’s overall ranking is above the average for OECD countries. Canada is even leading the G7 in two of the eight indicators: long-term unemployment rate and employment rate for women.

Making comparisons

It’s hard to draw a general conclusion, since your own practical appreciation of the job market in Canada will inevitably vary depending on where you live and which economic sector you work in. However, there is no denying that many other countries came out of the 2008 crisis in much worse shape and that Canada actually stacks up well against the G7, the OECD and the euro zone.

Could we have done better? Are we in a good position for the future? That’s for the economists – and the politicians – to say!