Today’s Job Numbers: The Bad and The Ugly

The headline numbers are bad enough: “employment declined by 55,000 in March, all in full time. The unemployment rate rose 0.2 percentage points to 7.2%.”

The underlying numbers are ugly. The employment decline would have been worse but for a large jump in self-reported self-employment. The number of employees with positions paid by an employer actually fell by 93,100 in March (partially offset by 38,700 more Canadians reporting self-employment).

Official unemployment would have increased even more but for 12,300 Canadians dropping out of the labour force altogether and consequently not being counted as unemployed.

Average wages rose by only 2.1% over the past year, a bit ahead of actual inflation. But workers are just treading water relative to the Bank of Canada’s 2% inflation target.


  • Average wages. That is, including the top dogs. Where did the median wage go? One suspects even worse.

  • I always find the “self-employed” category a bit of a deception. Often, these are unemployed workers who are scrambling for casual work because no employment is available, but describe themselves as self-employed for reasons of pride.

    During the WCB Royal Commission in the 90’s, one of the interesting pieces of research was a report on the actual supply of work, calculated in ‘average labour units” which quantified the amount of work rather than the numbers of persons in each category. This showed that the supply of work was not really growing much in BC, but only being distributed more broadly.

  • Good point John. I have often wondered about how accurately survey participants self identified as self employed. So I went digging today into the hours of work data for employees. I figure if people are reporting self employment but are not working in an existing job then one would guess that their hours of work might reflect a lower average weekly amount than those classified as working for an employer. Overall, self employment is estimated to make up over 2.7 million workers in Canada. As of March the average hours of weekly work for the self employed was about 38 hours per week which is above those of regular workers who average an estimated 35.7. Amazingly over the past 20 some years self employed have always averaged 4-6 hours more per week. However, since the great recession has hit, there has been a noticeable drop in the average hours of work by the self employed. So this seems to lead to the conclusion that if you report yourself self employed to Statcan, then you on average report working a few more hours per week.

    One last point on this months LFS manufacturing has entered into a definite declining medium term trend. This does not bode well for any notion of sustain recovery in the economy. That said, there is some new activity in the forestry sector, the price of lumber has hit some post recession highs and a good chunk of downstream forestry value adding is classified as manufacturing so we should start seeing a bit of relief in terms of jobs. Lets just hope we get more value adding to lumber exports and not just sawn logs for export. And lets hope that the seemingly growing green efforts in forestry are finding their way to some new found market truths. There is a lot of potential innovation and change that encapsulate the forestry and forestry products industry lets move this forward.

    Also, lets also hope that BC starts up some kind of massive effort to deal with the pine bug outbreak. Replanting, scarification and whatever else can be done to help recovery efforts in those communities and the forest.

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