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TD Economics | Labour Market Recovery Speeds Up in September

  • Employment rose 378k in September, marking the fifth straight month of increases. This means 76% of jobs lost during the lockdowns (March and April) have been recouped thus far. Compared to employment, the labour force increase was more modest, rising 164k in September. As a result, the unemployment rate took a big step downwards to 9.0% from 10.2% in August.

  • Hours worked continued to improve last month, increasing 1.9% m/m. More Canadians saw hours return closer to normal as those who were working less than half their usual hours for reasons likely related to COVID-19 fell by 108k. Still, the number of people absent from work due to COVID-19 elevated at 605k. The labour utilization rate fell from 20.3% to 18.3% in September, but remained higher than the pre-pandemic (February) level of 11.2%. Encouragingly, employment gains in September were in full-time work (+334k). Meanwhile, part-time jobs rose by 44k.   

  • Both the goods and services- producing industries saw employment gains in September. Services industries stole the show, adding 303k jobs, while goods contributed another 75k. On the services side, the advances were primarily in accommodation and food services (+72k), educational services (+68k), and information, culture and recreation (+56k). Manufacturing (+68k) led the way among goods-producing industries. Despite the improvement, overall employment was down 3.7% from the February level, with four industries accounting for three-quarters of this weakness: accommodation and food services, retail trade, construction, and transportation and warehousing.

  • On a provincial basis, employment increased in every province expect New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island last month. The strongest advances were observed in Ontario and Quebec. Ontario added 168k jobs in September, mostly in full-time work, and the gains were concentrated in accommodation and food services, manufacturing, and educational services. Employment in Quebec increased by 77k, with educational services and accommodation and food services the largest contributors. Across Western Canada, provinces also saw employment rise. British Columbia added 55k jobs, while Alberta contributed 38k. Employment was little-changed in New Brunswick, while it fell slightly in PEI (-800).

  • In other good news, employment improved for parents in September. Both mothers (+0.9%) and fathers (+1.5%) saw employment return to pre-COVID levels. However, mothers are still facing difficulty in working their usual hours. The number of mothers working less than half their usual hours was 70% higher than what it was in February.

  • The return of employment for parents to pre-pandemic levels implies youth are still missing out. Indeed, despite employment rising for 15 to 24 year-olds in September,  this group remained well below February levels by 10.4% for female youth and 10.2% off the mark for male youth

Key Implications

  • Make it five! For the fifth straight month, the Canadian labour market posted gains, recovering more than three-quarters of the jobs lost in March and April. This is a phenomenal outcome particularly when compared with that of the U.S. where jobs are only slightly above the 50% threshold. The pace of recovery sped up last month due to Ontario continuing to re-open its economy and parents returning to work, but also because we are seeing a shift to public sector jobs gaining ground to above pre-pandemic levels – a trend that's likely going to make further inroads as health care and related support workers for the pandemic are put in place.

  • Indeed, with kids returning to school, employment for parents surpassed pre-COVID levels. But the big question is how long can that last? School re-openings have proved to be very tricky with the pandemic now entering the second wave and the pressure is increasing for provinces to undertake tighter restrictions to control the spread of the virus. Quebec and Ontario, the two provinces facing higher infection cases due to population density, have already undertaken targeted measures. Quebec has responded by shutting down "high-touch" businesses such as bars, restaurants, and casinos for 28 days. Ontario has resisted more stringent measures, choosing to limit the size of social gatherings, but this may soon change as the data unfolds on a day by day basis.

Sri Thanabalasingam, Senior Economist


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