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Jobless rate drops to 6 per cent in November as number of long-term unemployed falls

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OTTAWA — Canada's labour market shook off more of the shock from COVID-19 by adding 153,700 jobs in November, pushing the unemployment rate to a pandemic-era low and sending the share of the core working population with a job to an all-time high.

The growth dropped the unemployment rate to six per cent, leaving the headline rate within 0.3 percentage points of the 5.7 per cent recorded in February 2020 just before the pandemic struck.

Statistics Canada said the unemployment rate would have been 7.8 per cent in November had it included Canadians who wanted to work but didn't search for a job, down from 8.7 per cent in October.

Gains were seen across a range of industries and provinces, but didn't take into effect the situation in British Columbia because the jobs survey took place before severe flooding struck.

Driving a drop in unemployment was a plunge of 62,000 in the number of long-term unemployed who have been out of job for six months or more, marking the first monthly drop since August. Statistics Canada said the decline was especially sharp for those out of work for at least 12 months.

Total hours worked also returned to pre-pandemic levels in November.

"So many positive trends tell us that finally, these workers are seeing the light at the end of the COVID tunnel," said Tu Nguyen, an economist with accounting firm RSM Canada.

Gains followed the end of a federal unemployment benefit that some economists suggested may have jump-started job searches. But Kaylie Tiessen, an economist with the Unifor union, said the Canada Recovery Benefit, alongside business subsidies, could be credited for saving jobs by helping impacted households keep their purchasing power.

"Those things together prevented many businesses from collapsing, which meant that people had jobs to go back to as things were opening again," Tiessen said. "Government intervention in times of crisis prevents further economic collapse and also speeds economic recovery."

The share of core-age women ( with a job was the highest since 1976, which could have been helped by more mothers working with schools and daycares open, or finding an affordable childcare space, said Jennifer Robson, associate professor of political management at Carleton University.

Also helping women was growth in jobs needing post-secondary education, which women are more likely to have than men.

Economist Armine Yalnizyan with the Atkinson Foundation said on Twitter that the country hasn't hit a full "she-covery," noting more women than men dropped out of the labour market during the pandemic and aren't necessarily captured in the Statistics Canada data.

With unemployment declining and job vacancies ticking upwards, the statistics office said signs point to new or worsening labour shortages or skill mismatches. 

Leah Nord, senior director of workforce strategies for the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, said shortages won't abate without a meaningful way to connect unemployed workers with available jobs, or enough workers to fill available jobs.

Tightness could further increase wages that on average have increased by 5.2 per cent compared with November 2019, which is close to the inflation rate over that time. Statistics Canada said wages rose faster for new hires than those with jobs during the two-year stretch.

Tanya Gullison, chief revenue officer of consulting firm LHH, said the wage increases will trickle into next year as companies look to hire and retain staff.

Not to be forgotten in the outlook is cloudiness caused by COVID-19.

The emergence of new variants or jumps in case counts could upend any upswing in employment, particularly in high-contact service sectors, said Brendon Bernard, senior economist with job-posting site Indeed. 

"Optimism on the public-health front is good for investment, it's good for confidence, and it's a key ingredient that we need to continue to progress," he said. 

"Otherwise, these different areas of the economy are sort of left wondering what's next."

Friday's jobs report landed days before the Bank of Canada's next scheduled announcement about its trendsetting policy rate. The central bank is looking for a labour market recovery any rate hike.

Employment last month was about 186,000 above February 2020 levels, and in the estimated range of 110,000 to 270,000 jobs the country would have without the pandemic's effects, once accounting for population growth.

TD senior economist Sri Thanabalasingam said the jobs report, high inflation and a hot housing market may mean the central bank raises rates as early as January.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 3, 2021.

Jordan Press, The Canadian Press

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