The Canadian economy created 17,900 jobs last month, less than expected, as gains in part-time jobs outweighed full-time losses.
The country's jobless rate stayed at 8.2 per cent in March as more people entered the labour market in search of work, Statistics Canada said Friday.
The job gains, though muted, highlight slow but steady improvements in the labour market. Employers have now added to payrolls in the past six of eight months and the first quarter of this year was the strongest in two years. March's employment gains brings the total increase to 176,000 since July.
The latest numbers "are still not indicative of a booming job market, but are consistent with a steadily recovering labour picture," said Meny Grauman, economist at CIBC World Markets. "The full-time/part-time mix was disappointing."
The economy shed 14,200 full-time jobs last month, while creating 32,200 part-time positions. It's a reversal of a month earlier, when full-time jobs drove the gains, partly due to Olympic-related hiring.
The Canadian dollar weakened, trading at 99.33 cents (U.S.) from around the parity mark, as employers added fewer jobs than anticipated. It's the first major economic release in weeks to disappoint - economists had expected 26,000 new jobs would be added with the unemployment rate falling to 8.1 per cent.
The overall picture remains one of a recovering economy, with the Bank of Canada still expected to hike its overnight lending rate this summer, if not sooner.
"The strength in employment in first quarter is consistent with the building momentum in the economic expansion," said Dawn Desjardins, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada, adding that she still expects the key rate will increase in the second half, to end the year at 1.25 per cent from a record low of 0.25 per cent currently.
Professional, scientific and technical services, construction and natural resources added the most jobs. Declines were tallied in business, building and other support services along with transportation and warehousing.
The construction sector created 21,000 jobs, natural resources grew 13,200 positions and professional services expanded by 38,400. Business and building services tumbled 26,300 and transportation and warehousing eliminated 19,600 jobs.
Employment rose in Ontario, Quebec and Saskatchewan and was little changed elsewhere.
Alberta's employment was little changed, but more people entering the labour force pushed the jobless rate to 7.5 per cent - a 14-year high. "Alberta is the only province with an employment decline since July," the agency noted.
The private sector grew by 42,400 positions while the public sector shed 20,600 positions and self-employment declined by 4,000.
Since July, when the labour market picked up, the largest gains in employment have been among women aged 25 to 54 and men aged 55 and over.