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Economy blows past expectations, adds 259,000 jobs in February

Unemployment rate falls to 8.2 per cent, lowest level since March 2020


March 11, 2021, was the one-year anniversary of COVID-19 being declared a global pandemic. (blvdone/Adobe Stock)

OTTAWA — Statistics Canada says the economy added 259,000 jobs in February, almost wiping out losses sustained over the previous two months.

The economy lost almost 213,000 jobs in January as lockdown measures erased months of gains, and marked the worst monthly declines since last April.

February’s reopenings reversed that drop with gains largely in Ontario and Quebec, and in sectors highly affected by tightened public health restrictions.

The national unemployment rate fell to 8.2 per cent, the lowest level since March 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, and down from the 9.4 per cent recorded in February.

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Statistics Canada says the unemployment rate would have been 10.7 per cent in February had it included in calculations Canadians who wanted to work but didn’t search for a job.

Uncertainty will remain in the short term, said Jim Mitchell, president of LHH, an HR consultancy in Toronto.

“With the pandemic extending into the second quarter, it’s no surprise that companies remain cautiously optimistic about employment decisions,” he said.

“Some industries, like travel and hospitality, were obviously forced to react quickly. Companies in other key sectors reacted less uniformly. This will likely lead to readjustments in the coming months. On a positive note, the drop in the unemployment rate reflects the findings in our survey that over 70 per cent of companies are continuing to hire.”

Where is Canada’s labour market trending?

The figures blew past expectations of a gain of 75,000 and an unemployment rate of 9.2 per cent, according to financial data firm Refinitiv.

CIBC senior economist Royce Mendes writes that the quick turnaround in jobs numbers is reminiscent of the first wave of the pandemic when employment rebounded far faster than expected as the economy began reopening.

However, he says in a note that the labour market has a long way to get back to where it was prior to COVID-19.

The gains now leave the country 599,100 jobs short of where they were in February of last year, or 3.1 per cent below pre-pandemic levels.

The federal government is keeping a close eye on the labour market, suggesting it will use jobs as a gauge for planned stimulus measures to be unveiled in a spring budget.

So too is the Bank of Canada monitoring employment, noting the uneven impacts of job losses in its reasoning this week for holding its key policy rate at 0.25 per cent.

With files by Talent Canada