Canada’s labour market delivered a surprise Friday with its biggest one-month employment surge since 1976, when the government started collecting comparable data.
The country added 106,500 net jobs in April, and the bulk of them were full time, Statistics Canada said in its latest labour force survey.
The unexpected increase helped drop the unemployment rate to 5.7 per cent last month, from 5.8 per cent in March.
The labour market has seen strong employment numbers since mid-2016 and has remained a bright spot for an economy that has struggled in other areas — to the point it almost stalled over the winter.
Employment grew 0.6 per cent with the April increase — the highest proportional monthly expansion since 1994.
Numbers far outstrip estimates
Economists had expected a gain of 10,000 jobs for the month and the unemployment rate to remain at 5.8 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters Eikon.
A closer look at the April numbers reveals the overall gain was driven by the creation of 73,000 full-time jobs and 83,800 positions in the private sector.
Compared with a year earlier, Canada added 426,400 jobs for a proportional increase of 2.3 per cent. The labour market has created an average of 36,000 jobs per month over the past year.
Chalk this one up as a solid message that employers still have faith in the Canadian economy.
Year over year, average hourly wage growth for all employees in April was 2.5 per cent, up from a reading of 2.4 per cent for March. Wage growth is a key indicator monitored by the Bank of Canada ahead of its interest rate decisions.
“Nearly every indicator of quality came in strong this month: The best-ever gain came with solid full-time job growth, all in employees — rather than self-employed — more Canadians were drawn into labour markets and wages were up,” said Brian DePratto, senior economist for TD Economics, in a written statement about the results.
“Chalk this one up as a solid message that employers still have faith in the Canadian economy.”
Avery Shenfeld, managing director and chief economist of CIBC Capital Markets, told CBC News that the economy does seem to have some “spring in its step.”
“It’s hard to take seriously that we gained 100,000 or more jobs in a single month, but there’s undoubtedly some truth to the idea that the weakness we’ve seen in the economy in the past two quarters is giving way to a better pace to growth as the weather and some other segments of the economy improve,” Shenfeld said.
The gains were spread across many industries, with both the services and factory sectors seeing employment increases.
Employment rose by 32,400 in the category of wholesale and retail trade positions, while the construction sector added 29,200 jobs.
“Overall, the trend in job growth over the past year has been tilted towards services, while growth of goods producing industries like manufacturing have lagged. Construction was also in this camp, but jumped up this past month,” said Brendon Bernard, economist for job site Indeed Canada.
“A few factors could have helped boost construction employment like a rebound from a cold-winter, and a 23 per cent jump in housing starts in April, but we can’t take too much from one month’s worth of data.”
Labour economist Julia Pollak of ZipRecruiter said she was glad to see some long-awaited wage growth.
“Wage growth has been sluggish throughout the recovery, but finally seems to be ticking upwards,” said Pollak. “We will need to see continued job gains for wage growth to solidify.”
Part-time positions for youth
A rush of 66,400 part-time positions for workers 15 to 24 years old helped lower the youth unemployment rate last month to 10.3 per cent from 10.7 per cent, the survey said.
Those part-time jobs are worth noting in context of the big overall number, Shenfeld said. “The data do show that Canadians are working fewer hours per job and that’s a part of it.”
By region, Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Prince Edward Island all saw net job gains last month.
Desjardins senior economist Helene Begin said in a written statement that nearly 80 per cent of the overall gain was concentrated in Ontario, which added 47,100 jobs in April, and in Quebec, which saw its jobless rate fall to 4.9 per cent for its lowest level since the survey’s creation in 1976.
The April increase put Canada back on the job-creation path following an interruption in March.
Overall employment dropped by 7,200 net jobs in March, the first monthly decrease after six consecutive months of rising employment between September and February.