Canada lost 7,200 jobs in March, ending 6-month string of gains

Canada’s job market shrank by 7,200 positions in March, but the jobless rate held steady at 5.8 per cent.

Statistics Canada reported Friday that most provinces lost jobs, especially Quebec (down by 12,900 jobs) and Ontario (down 8,800 jobs). British Columbia added 7,900 jobs, Saskatchewan added 3,900 jobs, New Brunswick added 3,100 jobs and Prince Edward Island added 2,000.

Everywhere else, the job market was flat.

The jobless rate held steady despite the loss of jobs because there were fewer people looking for work, too.

The monthly decline comes on the heels of the best two-month start to the year for Canada’s job market in almost 40 years, with 66,800 new jobs in January and 55,900 in February.

Economists had been expecting a slowdown from those highs, but thought the economy would still eke out a gain of about 2,300 jobs for the month, on average, according to Bloomberg. So the March loss came as a surprise.

While the overall economy lost jobs, many sectors saw gains.

“It was a mixed bag,” TD Bank economist Brian DePratto said. Goods-producing industries added about 1,600 jobs overall, but that was more than offset by widespread declines in the service sector, including 20,000 lost in health care and 14,000 in business support.

De Pratto said while the headline number was certainly negative, overall, the report wasn’t all that bad.

Canada lost jobs in March, but the jobless rate stayed the same. (Scott Galley/CBC)

“The end of a six-month streak of job gains is sure to catch headlines, but given the strength we’ve seen over the past half-year, a flat report isn’t really surprising and indeed makes some sense given the relatively modest performance of other economic indicators in recent months,” he said.

Scotiabank economist Derek Holt also found some reason for optimism in the numbers — namely that the number of hours worked and wages were both higher, despite there apparently being fewer workers.

“The decline is inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, and masked other encouraging evidence such as a large gain in hours worked that is a strong early start to tracking March GDP,” he said.

“When you’ve been surprised to such a great extent to the upside for so long, being reserved toward a minor flesh wound on the latest [jobs number] is probably the best course of action,” Holt said.

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