OTTAWA — Canada’s labor market lost more than a million jobs in March as the effects of the coronavirus walloped the economy, according to the latest federal employment report Thursday.
The decline represented 5.3 percent of the jobs in a country of 37 million people.
The losses helped drive the unemployment rate to 7.8 percent, up from 5.6 percent in February, for its largest one-month increase since comparable data became available in 1976.
“The employment decline in March was larger than in any of three significant recessions experienced since 1980,” the Statistics Canada report said.
The typically unremarkable Labour Force Survey had deeper significance this time around as the most-notable early indicator of the coronavirus’ hit to the economy.
The public has watched job losses pile up around the country. Now, there’s data to back it up.
“The economic reality of COVID-19 came into sharper focus this morning with absolutely massive job losses seen across Canada,” Royce Mendes, executive director for CIBC Capital Markets, wrote in a research note.
Mendes warned that April’s employment reading is likely to be even worse because the shutdowns only really began in earnest around the middle of March. Some employers, he added, might have tried to hold on to some employees in the early weeks of the forced closures.
Canada, like so many countries around the world, has effectively boarded up huge parts of its economy to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
Other numbers in Thursday’s Labour Force Survey showed total hours worked dropped by 15 percent across all industries, the report said.
The services sectors were by far the hardest hit, losing 963,500 jobs, with much of the decline in accommodation, food services and retail and wholesale trade. The goods-producing sectors shed 47,200 position, mostly in manufacturing.
Young people aged 15 to 24 saw the biggest decrease in employment of any category by shedding 392,000 jobs.
Women aged 25 to 54 years old, in the core-working group, saw an employment decline more than twice the size as men in the same category.
The private sector lost 830,200 positions while the public sector saw a decrease of 144,600 jobs.
The deterioration of the job market marked a swift turnaround for Canadian employment, which in recent years has been one of the strongest pillars of the economy.
For example, the jobless rate had hovered between 5.4 percent and 5.9 percent, near a 44-year low, from March 2019 and until February 2020.
Heading into Thursday’s release, a consensus of economists had predicted the March job losses to reach around 500,000 and for the unemployment rate to surge to 7.5 percent.
Even 500,000 job losses would have made the release “four to five times worse than any report we’ve seen,” said Frances Donald, global chief economist and head of macro strategy for Manulife Investment Management.
The release comes a day after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau provided a preview for Canadians of the March job report as he warned “it’s going to be a hard day for the country.”
Between March 15 and end-of-day Tuesday, the number of claims soared for Canada’s employment insurance program and the federal government’s new emergency workers benefit programs. Combined, the programs attracted 4.26 million claims, which is more than 11 percent of Canada’s entire population.
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