Job loss plagues large chunks of Ontario

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Appeared in the Toronto Sun, December 20, 2017
Job loss plagues large chunks of Ontario

Ontario’s overall economy has largely recovered from the Great Recession after a great deal of pain. The province had 5.9 per cent more total jobs in 2016 (the latest year of comparable data) than it did in 2008. While that’s a lackluster rate of job growth, much of the province has fared far worse since then.

Eleven of the province’s 23 urban areas actually had less total jobs in 2016 than they did in 2008. Three regions in particular have been left behind: northern Ontario, eastern Ontario and southwestern Ontario—albeit to a lesser extent.

Northern Ontario has seen the most unambiguously negative employment situation since 2008. Each urban area in the region experienced negative net job creation between 2008-2016. This means that, in total, there are fewer jobs in the region now than there were in 2008. In fact, each of northern Ontario’s census agglomeration (CA) and census metropolitan areas (CMAs) experienced negative net job growth during this period.

Job losses ranged from 1 per cent in Greater Sudbury to 16.1 per cent in Sault Ste. Marie. It’s notable that the two CMAs, Greater Sudbury and Thunder Bay, saw lower employment decreases than the CAs. That’s consistent with the provincial trend of CMAs generally creating more jobs than their smaller cousins, CAs (which are basically population centres between 10,000 and 100,000).

The impact of the job losses are particularly evident in Sault Ste. Marie and Greater Sudbury, both of which saw their unemployment rates jump more than two percentage points between 2008 and 2016 to 8.2 per cent and 8.1 per cent, respectively. Timmins and Thunder Bay also had unemployment rates slightly above the provincial average, while North Bay’s rate was slightly below.

Eastern Ontario has also seen economic opportunities dry up. Kingston’s total number of jobs grew less than 5 per cent during this period, below the provincial average of 5.9 per cent, while Peterborough had roughly 5 per cent jobs in 2016 than it did in 2008 and Cornwall saw its total number of jobs decline by one-third.

Finally, southwestern Ontario saw an uneven recovery. Two of the six CMAs/CAs have seen employment increase more rapidly than the provincial average during that period, while the other four have actually lost jobs over that period.

Windsor, buoyed by strong job growth in 2016, had 6 per cent more jobs that year than it did in 2008. While that was slightly above the provincial average, it still lagged behind the national average for job creation. Leamington shows strong job growth, but this number should be interpreted with some caution given the small size of the CA and its small sample size in the labour force survey. Unfortunately, the rest of the region had a considerably worse experience, with London losing roughly 1 per cent of its total number of jobs, while Chatham-Kent and Norfolk saw declines around 10 per cent, and Sarnia had 21 per cent less total jobs in 2016 than it did in 2008.

Clearly, while the provincial economy as a whole has recovered (albeit, slowly) from the recession after considerable pain, the same cannot be said for much of northern, eastern and southwestern Ontario. Unfortunately the provincial recovery has largely been confined to a few urban areas in and around Toronto and Ottawa.