THE LABOUR MARKET the rennie brief
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW: A DEEPER DIVE INTO THE LATEST JOB NUMBERS • While it has been widely reported that Canada shed more than 1 million jobs between February and March of this year, there has been only limited discussion of the composition of these job losses. • Here in BC, the data show that part-time job-holders were hit the hardest, accounting for 57% of job losses despite representing only 19% overall jobs. • Similarly, the province’s service sector, while representing 81% of the province’s jobs, accounted for 99% of job losses. • These patterns of change contrast sharply with our experience during the Great Recession of 2008/9 and they provide hints at how our economy might evolve in the coming months.
23 APRIL 2020
In BC and across the rest of the country, the job losses observed last month were uneven, with part-time positions and the service sector being impacted the most.
spanning June 2008 and March 2009. The silver lining, if there is one, of part-time jobs being hit hardest in our current context is that federal income supports (primarily administered through the Employment Insurance and the Canada Emergency Response Benefit programs) are likelier to provide more fulsome income support to those who have relinquished part-time work than they would those who have lost full-time positions (whose incomes tend to be higher). SERVICES BEING HIT HARD In addition to the part-time sector bearing the brunt of BC’s job losses, the province’s service sector also took a disproportionate hit: while normally representing 4-of-5 jobs (81% of employment), service sector jobs accounted for 99% of jobs losses between February and March, with retail and food/accommodation leading the way. This contrasts with the experience of 2008/9 when it was the goods-producing sector (primarily construction and manufacturing) as well as Finance & Real Estate that disproportionately contracted. Restaurants, hotels, and retailers being impacted most is not, within our social isolation context, very surprising. And looking ahead, it is these sectors that may also take the longest to rebound, dependent as they are on visitors and tourism dollars—neither of which is expected to reach pre-downturn levels for many months, if not years. IN SUMMARY As we dig further into the data searching for a better understanding of how our markets are changing, and as we contemplate what a recovery from the Great Suppression might look like, it’s clear that generalisms and blanket statements will not suffice. And while this brief only scratches the surface of trying to unpack some of the unprecedented compositional changes to our economic structure that we’re seeing, it offers a sense for how this downturn is having uneven effects. Our recovery, when it begins to unfold, is likely to be equally lumpy.
CONTEXT In early April 2020, we wrote a brief that highlighted the latest total employment figures released by Statistics Canada. Though the reference period for the data was March 15-21—thereby only capturing the first wave of economic changes sweeping across the country as a result of COVID-19—the data still showed the loss of more than 1 million jobs nationally between February and March. While this is a strikingly large number, it was mostly expected given the pace of EI claims that had emerged prior. More importantly, while such high-level estimates allowed us to quantify the labour market fall-out to-date, they did little to help us understand how our economic structure is changing and, by extension, how these changes bode for our inevitable, but uncertain, path to recovery. With this in mind, this brief aims to provide a few additional insights into our fast-changing economic landscape, specifically as they relate to full-time/ part-time work and sectoral employment impacts in British Columbia. PART-TIME JOBS BEARING THE BRUNT OF THE LOSSES Across Canada, part-time employment represents fewer than 1-in-5 jobs (as of February 2020, it was 17%). The same is true in BC, where 19% of jobs are in part-time work, with the remaining 81% being full-time positions. Despite this, the initial impacts of our coordinated economic shutdown (the so-called “Great Suppression”) were disproportionately absorbed by part-time positions, with 57% of jobs losses in BC between February and March being part-time in nature (a 536,700-job decline). This contrasts sharply with the experience of 2008/9 during the Great Recession, with full-time employment accounting for 128% of total job losses—that’s right, part-time employment grew as full-time jobs were lost—between the 10 months
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