More than one million people in Canada lost their jobs in March and the unemployment rate climbed to 7.8%, reflecting the first wave of layoffs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Job losses in March easily outweighed a record month-long decline in January 2009 – when employment fell by about 125,000 – according to Statistics Canada’s Labor Force Survey data to 1976. March also experienced the largest month-long increase in the unemployment rate in the country, which was 5.6% in February.
Record job losses were widely anticipated in Thursday’s report. Statscan questioned households about working conditions between March 15 and March 21, which overlapped with many companies closing and laying off workers as COVID-19 began to shake up the economy.
Of those employed between March 15 and March 21, about 2.1 million people did not work shifts or worked less than half their usual hours.
“These increases in absences from work can be attributed to COVID-19 and bring the total number of Canadians affected by job loss or reduced work hours to 3.1 million,” said Statscan.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned on Wednesday that the job report would be ugly. “It will be a difficult day for the country,” he said.
Since Statscan’s week of investigation, layoffs have intensified as governments have put tougher restrictions on business operations and social interactions to curb the growth of the virus. Between March 15 and April 8, approximately 4.75 Canadians sought emergency financial assistance from the federal government, a sign of an unprecedented work disruption.
As such, the April job report (released early next month) should largely show even worse job loss figures.
Thursday’s report showed that the employment rate fell to 58.5% from 61.8% in February, while the participation rate – the percentage of people working or looking for work – fell to 63.5% in March, from 65.5% in March.
Ontario experienced the largest job losses in gross numbers, with the number of people employed declining by approximately 403,000, followed by Quebec with 264,000 and British Columbia with 132,000 who lost their jobs.
Employment among young people aged 15 to 24 fell by almost 400,000 or 15.4%.
Among the approximately 1 million people who lost their jobs, there was an almost equal distribution of those who joined the unemployed and those who left the workforce.
The distinction between unemployed and inactive people is particularly important in the context of COVID-19.
According to the EPA, the unemployed include those who are available for work and have looked for work in the past four weeks, as well as those who have been laid off temporarily and expect to join their employer. It also includes those who are ready to start work within four weeks.
Given these stipulations, many workers affected by COVID-19 are not officially considered unemployed. For example, an unemployed parent who suddenly takes care of homework at school and is therefore unavailable for work is not considered to be unemployed. The unemployed person also did not stop looking for work because their industry had stopped hiring.
Instead, they are considered not to be in the workforce.
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