Canada hits highest unemployment rate ever recorded (but there are positive signs on the horizon)

The national unemployment rate hit a record high level in May. The current 13.7 per cent unemployment is the highest ever recorded, since Statistics Canada began tracking comparable data in 1976.

Still, the economic news isn’t all grim. Stats Can notes that the Canadian economy actually added nearly 300,000 new jobs last month.

However, the unemployment rate continued to tick upwards from 13 to 13.7 per cent as more people entered the job market. That in itself is an encouraging sign. More people looking for work means that there is increased confidence among Canadians about the economic recovery.

From February to April, the total number of unemployed Canadians more than doubled. In February, prior to the COVID-19 economic shutdown, the unemployment rate was 5.6 per cent. It increased to 7.8 per cent in March and 13.0 per cent in April.

Most economists had been predicting that Canada would lose another half a million jobs in May, which makes the gains of 290,000 new jobs all the more striking.

With the exception of Nova Scotia, provincial governments in the Atlantic region started to ease restrictions in early May, with New Brunswick reopening most of its economy from May 8. As a result, there were 17,000 more people working in New Brunswick last month. Newfoundland and Labrador saw gains of 10,000 new jobs. There were 8,600 more people working in Nova Scotia, and 2,600 more in Prince Edward Island.

The greatest job increases were in Quebec last month. From April to May, employment in Quebec increased by 231,000. There were also slight gains in employment in most of the Western provinces in May. By contrast, Ontario was the only province to continue to lose jobs, with a further 65,000 fewer people working in that province.

Here’s a snapshot of the job numbers across Canada.

Unemployment rate by province
(and open jobs on CareerBeacon)

Newfoundland and Labrador 16.3 per cent [View jobs in NL]

Prince Edward Island 13.9 per cent [Jobs in PEI]

Nova Scotia 13.6 per cent [Jobs in Nova Scotia]

New Brunswick 12.8 per cent [Available jobs in New Brunswick]

Quebec 13.7 per cent [See jobs in Quebec]

Ontario 13.6 per cent [Job opportunities in Ontario]

Manitoba 11.2 per cent [Jobs in Manitoba]

Saskatchewan 12.5 per cent [Jobs in Saskatchewan]

Alberta 15.5 per cent [Available jobs in Alberta]

British Columbia 13.4 per cent [See jobs in B.C.]

So, while reaching a new record high unemployment rate is an ominous landmark, Canada’s job market is actually showing signs of recover. The lockdowns are beginning to ease in many regions, more people are working, and more people are re-entering the labour market and looking for work.

To explore the most recent results from the Labour Force Survey in more depth, visit the full report from Statistics Canada.

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