By Kaylie Tiessen, Unifor Research Department
In early February, Canada’s jobs report led with some attention grabbing numbers. A deep dive into the data shows that while the headline numbers might be alarming, the overall picture is one of strength. Canada’s labour market is performing well and has been for the past year – there is so much more worth paying attention to than the headlines are designed to portray.
Monthly data are volatile
It is important to keep in mind that the labour force survey, the survey that collects the jobs report data, produces fairly volatile results on a monthly basis. And while the numbers are indicators of what may be happening in the labour market, one month of data does not make a trend.
January numbers reported that Canada lost 88,000 jobs in one month, but the year-over-year data show that January job growth was higher than any month in 2014, 2015 or 2016.
What’s more pertinent than the monthly numbers is a look at what has happened in the labour market in the last 12 months.
Employment gains strongest in higher minimum wage provinces
Year-over-year, Canada saw a 1.6 per cent increase in employment, including a 3.5 per cent reduction in part-time work and a 2.8 per cent increase in full-time work. Eight out of 10 provinces (B.C. and P.E.I. being the exceptions) showed a similar trend. Alberta, the province with the highest 2017 minimum wage, saw the largest decline in part-time work (-9.7 per cent) and the largest increase in full-time work (five per cent).
Average hours worked is on a strong upward trajectory
Not only are there more jobs since January 2017, but average hours worked is growing as well. Year-over-year average hours worked increased by 0.8 per cent in January 2018. As workers move from part-time jobs to full-time jobs this number tends to move accordingly.
Average wage growth showing strong year-over-year gains
Average hourly pay grew by 3.3 per cent between January 2017 and 2018. This measure takes into account workers in all industries and all employee types from new entrants to managers. The strong upswing in the last eight months does not reverse the weak wage growth Canadian workers have seen over the last decade, but does suggest the possibility that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
Trend to watch: median wages in low wage sectors
Generally, median wages tend to grow at a slightly slower rate than average wages. In January two low-wage industries, agriculture and accommodation and food services, bucked that trend. Year-over-year the median wage in accommodation and food services grew by 14 per cent to $14 an hour. The median wage in agriculture grew by nine per cent reaching $18/ hour in the same time period. This is a trend to keep an eye on as minimum wage increases continue to roll out across the country.
Strong, positive trends in Canada’s labour market
Canada’s labour market has been on a strong, positive trend for the past 12 months. Last week’s jobs numbers, through certainly alarming on the surface, do not provide enough information to say whether or not the trend has changed or if the monthly numbers are a continuation of the same volatility that is always present in the labour force survey.
A longer version of this article can be accessed at behindthenumbers.ca. Kaylie Tiessen is a national representative in Unifor’s Research Department.