Canada’s labour market sustained a historic drubbing in March as the nation reels from the widespread devastation of the coronavirus pandemic.

Employment plunged by 1.01 million from the prior month, the largest decline in records dating back to 1976, Statistics Canada said Thursday in Ottawa. The jobless rate surged to 7.8 per cent, up from 5.6 per cent in February.

The March report, based on a survey of households from March 15 to March 21, may be just a preview of even uglier numbers in the coming months as the economy heads for possibly its sharpest downturn since the Great Depression.

More than 4 million people -- or one in five workers -- have already applied for emergency income support since the government imposed social-distancing measures and ordered the closure of non-essential businesses to slow the spread of COVID-19.

“Today’s numbers are just a first snapshot of the deep-freeze that’s hit the Canadian labour market,” Brendon Bernard, an economist at Indeed Canada, said in a note. “The data since mid-March has only deteriorated.”

Prior to the pandemic, the biggest decline in Canadian employment was 125,000 in January 2009. The numbers are worse than economists had been expecting. Job losses had been forecast at 500,000 in March, with the unemployment rate seen rising to 7.5 per cent.

Other Details

  • Drop in employment was widespread, with all provinces losing jobs
  • Jump in unemployment was a record, but almost all of that was due to temporary layoffs, or workers expected to return to their job in six months
  • Number of people unemployed in March surged by 413k from February, the largest monthly change since comparable data became available in 1976
  • Participation rate dropped to 63.5 per cent, lowest since 1979 as almost 600k people dropped out of the labour force
  • Full-time employment losses totaled 474k, while part-time work dropped by 536.7k. The bulk of the losses were among wage earners in the private sector, which recorded a 830.2k drop
  • Most employment losses were concentrated in the private sector
  • Actual hours worked declined by 14 per cent from year ago, and 15 per cent from the previous month, both records
  • For core-aged workers, employment among women dropped more than twice that of men
  • Almost all of the decline is in service industries (-963.5K), led by retail/wholesale (-207.5k) and accommodation, food (-294.4k)
  • Jobless rate is highest since Oct. 2010, 2.2 percentage point hike in rate is largest one-month increase on record
  • Vulnerable workers got hit hardest; workers in less secure, lower-quality jobs were more likely to see employment losses, Statistics Canada said   


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