Ontario enjoying solid employment numbers

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Appeared in the Ottawa Sun, August 21, 2019
Ontario enjoying solid employment numbers

How’s the job going? In Ontario—and much of Canada—the answer is “pretty well.”

Let’s start at the top. This month’s labour market survey release from Statistics Canada shows some good big picture numbers—the July national unemployment rate for folks over 25 was 4.7 per cent for men and women, compared to 5.0 per cent a year ago.

In Ontario, we’re sitting at 4.4 per cent compared to 4.5 in July 2018. Those numbers are roughly what economists call “full employment numbers,” meaning most of the unemployed people the survey picks up are temporarily unemployed.

Of course there are long-term unemployed. That happens when the jobs have moved but the people haven’t, or the matches between the skills people have and the skills the market wants don’t line up. That is not fun. Nonetheless, two-thirds of Canadians and Ontarians over 25 say they’re in the labour force and all but a few of them are working, and that’s a decent number.

Some people work part-time—and some of them would rather work more. At the national level, fulltime employment has increased by more than 2 per cent over last year. That’s probably good, on the idea that people wouldn’t shift to fulltime if they didn’t want to.

In Ontario, however, fulltime employment has gone up by 3.1 per cent over last year, and part-time employment is down by 5.5 per cent. Those are big shifts, and on-net mean Ontario employment has bumped up sharply.

It’s summer so we think about youth and students. How are they doing? For the 15-to-24 year olds, unemployment is running near 11 per cent nationally and, perhaps oddly, about one percentage point higher in Ontario. Still, from a historical perspective, these are the sort of numbers we get in a pretty good year.

But here’s where it gets really interesting—and whether you like “it” depends on which side of the fence you’re on. Nationally, public-sector employment is down by 0.1 per cent year-over-year, private-sector jobs are up by 2.4 per cent, and the self-employed are up by 2.3 per cent.

In Ontario? Statistics Canada says the public-sector headcount is down by 4.1 per cent, the private sector up by 1.4 per cent over last year, and the self-employed up by 9.8 per cent. Again, where you stand on these big yearly shifts depends on where you sit.

Finally, there’s the what-have-you-done-for-me-lately front. Here, there’s more lag to the data, but as of May, average weekly earnings (including overtime) for all employees were up by 3.4 per cent nationally and 3.6 per cent in Ontario. Manufacturing wages were up by only 2.6 per cent but, for our western friends, up by 13.5 per cent in mining and energy resource work. Those pay gains are all well ahead of inflation.

What’s the downside? Risk of course. We have trade trouble, we have neighbour trouble, and we never know what the Chinese will do on trade or in the South China Sea, or who’s going to do what to whom in the Persian Gulf. The financial markets are signalling recession worries. And then there’s the U.S. Federal Reserve Board and what’s going to happen to our exchange rate and export earnings and important costs.

There are plenty of worries. But for Ontario in the past year, the job’s been going pretty good.

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