Canada shed three million jobs in the last two months due to the coronavirus lockdown, causing the unemployment rate to shoot up to 13% in April, the government reported Friday.
That rate more than doubled, following a relatively small increase the previous month when restrictions started to be put in place, its statistical agency said.
The new rate is second only to the 13.1% observed during a recession in 1982, but lower than analysts had forecast.
Statistics Canada said the figure would have been much higher had it included a large number of people who wanted to work but could not job-hunt “presumably due to ongoing business closures and very limited opportunities to find new work.”
Many also worked fewer hours, the agency said.
All of this has led to 6.7 million Canadians applying for unemployment benefits or government aid, and just over one in five Canadian households reporting difficulties meeting financial obligations.
“These numbers tell us what we already know: Canadians are hurting because of this pandemic. Everyone has their own story. But it all boils down to a very difficult time for a lot of people,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a daily briefing.
He also announced an extension beyond June of an emergency wage subsidy “to help kickstart our economic reopening and boost jobs.” Specific details are to follow next week.
‘Nothing to cheer about’
Although worst-case projections failed to materialise, “when you’re rounding the number of jobs lost to the nearest million, there’s nothing to cheer about,” commented CIBC analyst Avery Shenfeld.
The employment declines over the past two months were observed in all provinces, but Quebec – which has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 infections and fatalities – led all of them with 821 000 jobs lost.
Employment also dropped sharply in Canada’s three largest cities – Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver.
Youths aged 15-24, recent immigrants, low-wage workers and those with the least job security – temporary or non-unionised, for example – suffered the most job losses.
Statistics Canada noted, however, that most of the newly unemployed were temporarily laid off, meaning they could return to work when restrictions are lifted.
In March, it said, almost all job losses were observed in the services sector, whereas the following month goods-producing industries saw proportionally larger losses, led by construction and manufacturing.
Within the services sector, employment losses continued, led by wholesale and retail trade, and accommodation and food services.
Some sectors managed to avoid the carnage. Utilities, public administration, and finance, insurance and real estate, for example, were “relatively less affected by the Covid-19 economic shutdown,” said Statistics Canada.
Large firms and institutions appeared to have been able to keep workers on the job better than small businesses.
An additional 3.3 million Canadians also worked from home.
After previous downturns, services jobs returned “relatively quickly,” or within four months, to pre-downturn levels.
Workers in goods-producing industries were not as lucky, with recoveries from recessions in 1981-1982 and 1990-1992, and the 2008-2009 global financial crisis, taking more than six and 10 years, respectively.
This time, said Statistic Canada, “as economic activity resumes industry by industry following the Covid-19 economic shutdown, the time required for recovery will be a critical question.”