canada job losses

More than 1 million Canadians lost their jobs in March

Canada lost a total of 1,011,000 jobs in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to new numbers released by Statistics Canada today

The new data, based on the March Labour Force Survey (LFS), which reflects labour market conditions during the week of March 15 to 21, indicates that the unemployment rate increased to 7.8 per cent — the largest one-month increase since comparable data became available in 1976.

"By then, a sequence of unprecedented government interventions related to COVID-19—including the closure of non-essential businesses, travel restrictions, and public health measures directing Canadians to limit public interactions—had been put in place," the report notes.

"These interventions resulted in a dramatic slowdown in economic activity and a sudden shock to the Canadian labour market."

According to StatsCan, the employment decline in March was larger than in any of three significant recessions experienced since 1980 and is expected to have a significant effect on the performance of the Canadian economy over the coming months.

And while employment declined across all provinces except Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island in March, Ontario (-403,000), Quebec (-264,000), British Columbia (-132,000) and Alberta (-117,000) have reported the largest declines.

The unemployment rate isn't the only number that increased in March — as the number of Canadians who were employed, but who worked less than half their usual hours due to "business conditions" or "other reasons" also increased by 800,000.

There were also 1.3 million Canadians who were away from work for the full week of March 15 to 21, meaning the total number of people who missed all or part of their week amounts to 2.1 million and the total number of Canadians who were affected by either job loss or reduced hours was 3.1 million. 

According to StatsCan, this is more than eight times greater than number of hours of work lost during the 1998 ice storm.

The report also explains that many Canadians aren't working, but don't quite qualify as unemployed since they worked earlier in March and still wanted a job but hadn't looked for a new one, "presumably because of ongoing business shutdowns and the requirement to socially isolate."

If these people were counted as unemployed, the adjusted unemployment rate would be 8.9 per cent.

The Labour Force Survey also found that, unsurprisingly, the largest job losses were in the accommodation and food services industry. This is partially due to the effects of government-issued social distancing orders on public-facing activities, as well as limited ability to work from home. 

In March, accommodation and food services experienced an employment decline of -23.9 per cent while information, culture and recreation declined by -13.3 per cent, educational services fell by -9.1 per cent and wholesale and retail trade decreased by -7.2 per cent.

Data from the Labour Force Survey (LFS) are based on interviews with 56,000 households and more than 100,000 individuals every month.

As government interventions and shutdowns continued beyond the week of March 15 to 21, StatsCan and economists predict the current situation will be more accurately reflected in April's data. 

Meanwhile, the Conference Board of Canada has forecasted a total of 2.8-million job losses due to COVID-19. 

Lead photo by

Hector Vasquez


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