Last Week’s Job Numbers and the Perils of Punditry

Last week, Statistics Canada released an article on changing labour market conditions for young workers since the 1980s and its monthly Labour Force Survey for June.

Thursday’s article found that, compared to the early 1980s, employment outcomes have improved for Canadian women between 25 and 34. Employment outcomes deteriorated for men in that age range in provinces that do not produce oil. The picture was mixed for this male cohort in oil-producing provinces.

Although the article did not mention manufacturing, the decline of Canadian manufacturing may help explain these trends. Manufacturing has been cut in half as a share of Canadian employment, from 19% between 1976 and 1980 to just 10% since 2010.

The decline of this male-dominated sector likely contributed to worsening employment outcomes for young men. However, resource jobs offset this effect in oil-producing provinces.

The Canadian Press picked up my commentary but inexplicably identified me as “Stephen Weir.” Perhaps a clearly masculine name was more appropriate to this story? Yet The National Post and Yahoo Finance quoted me without incident.

Friday’s Labour Force Survey was remarkably similar to the previous month’s figures. Total employment as well as employment in most sectors and industries was virtually unchanged. Stagnation is bad news given our growing population and that 1.4 million Canadians remain unemployed.

There were also some notable shifts beneath the headline numbers. Total employment stayed the same because 32,200 additional part-time positions masked the loss of 32,400 full-time jobs. There was also a regional shift, with job gains in the western provinces offsetting employment declines in Ontario and Quebec.

A flat jobs report for June was perhaps not surprising on the heels of the incredible numbers reported for May. Putting aside fluctuations in the monthly data, the underlying story seems to be that Canada’s job market has been crawling along at a snail’s pace in 2013.

As Statistics Canada noted, employment growth has averaged 14,000 per month in the first half of this year. That is not enough to keep pace with population growth, let alone put a dent in unemployment.

My take on the Labour Force Survey was quoted on the front page of The Toronto Star’s business section. But on The Star’s website, my comment about Canada’s job market treading water was juxtaposed with a picture of Albertans actually treading water. Given yesterday’s flash flood in Toronto, that metaphor looks increasingly dangerous.

Erin Weir is an economist with the United Steelworkers union and a CCPA research associate.

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