March 13, 2023

Weekly EconMinute—February 2023 Labour Force Survey

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about February 2023 Labour Force Survey numbers.

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February marks the first potential sign of a cooling labour market. After two months of solid jobs growth, employment in February held steady both nationally (+22,000 jobs or +0.1% vs. January) and in Alberta (+1,600 jobs or +0.07% vs. January).

This trend held true across Canada with most provinces seeing less than a 1% change in employment up or down—representing very little change from January to February. Given the tightness of the labour market and the increase in interest rates, this was relatively expected.

In Alberta, an increase in the number of full-time jobs (+10.9k) was offset by a decrease in the number of part-time jobs (-9.3k).

The dip in participation was driven primarily by the working-age population (89.5% to 89.0%). That said, labour force participation among working-age Albertans is trending higher, while the opposite is true for those 55+, presumably as more reach retirement age. 

Regionally, the rate of unemployment continues to be the lowest in Lethbridge and the highest in Calgary. Though improved versus historical norms, Calgary holds the highest rate of unemployment of any major city across Canada for which data are available.

From an industry perspective, employment growth in transportation (+8.1k) and manufacturing (+7.5k) was offset by losses in wholesale and retail trade (-14.1k).

Looking to the longer-term trends shows manufacturing has continued to pick up hiring over the last few months. Over the same time, employment in natural resources has generally lost steam, settling back at pre-COVID norms.

Also of note is accommodation and food services (employment at restaurants, hotels, etc.) which has continued to see losses since June of last year – different from the national trend which continues to see gains, albeit modest ones.

Though employment was almost certain to level off at this point, the biggest story is that wage growth is heating up—and the gap versus the national average is narrowing.

However one concern looms: in the midst of an otherwise tight labour market, long-term unemployment (individuals out of work for a year or more) has started to climb. Given the volatility of this measure, it may be too soon to draw conclusions but will be important to watch.

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