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A waitress works on the outdoor patio at Joey Don Mills Grill and Lounge, in Toronto, on April 1, 2021.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Ontario’s job market charted a very uneven recovery over the course of 2021, with employment in low-wage industries remaining woefully below prepandemic levels, while the number of people employed in higher-wage white-collar jobs soared to levels not seen in years.

A new report from the province’s Financial Accountability Office paints a detailed picture of how polarized the province’s job market became in 2021. Employment in the accommodation and food-services industry, in particular, were furthest from prepandemic levels, while sectors such as tech, insurance, real estate and finance were not only barely affected by the pandemic, but recorded significant job growth.

“The impact of the pandemic can be seen most in industries with close customer contact and those jobs have not come back. Any time there was a lockdown, those were the first industries to be shut down and the last to open up,” said Peter Weltman, Ontario’s financial accountability officer.

The accommodation and food-services sector lost roughly 110,000 jobs in 2020, but gained back only 18,100 positions in 2021 – employment levels remained 20.6 per cent below what they were in 2019.

Monthly employment trend

by industry in Ontario

2020-2021, in thousands of jobs

Difference from Feb. 2020 employment

Feb. 2020 employment

Accommodation and

food services

Professional, scientific and

technical services

-53.1

450

(-11.9%)

750

400

93.6

(14.0%)

350

700

300

650

250

J

A

J

O

J

A

J

S

D

J

A

J

O

J

A

J

S

D

2020

2021

2020

2021

the globe and mail, Source: financial

accountability office of ontario

Monthly employment trend

by industry in Ontario

2020-2021, in thousands of jobs

Difference from Feb. 2020 employment

Feb. 2020 employment

Accommodation and

food services

Professional, scientific and

technical services

-53.1

450

(-11.9%)

750

400

93.6

(14.0%)

350

700

300

650

250

J

A

J

O

J

A

J

S

D

J

A

J

O

J

A

J

S

D

2020

2021

2020

2021

the globe and mail, Source: financial

accountability office of ontario

Monthly employment trend by industry in Ontario

2020-2021, in thousands of jobs

Difference from Feb. 2020 employment

Feb. 2020 employment

Accommodation and food services

Professional, scientific and technical services

-53.1

450

(-11.9%)

750

400

93.6

(14.0%)

350

700

300

650

250

J

A

J

O

J

A

J

S

D

J

A

J

O

J

A

J

S

D

2020

2021

2020

2021

the globe and mail, Source: financial accountability office of ontario

Other sectors that were significantly affected by the pandemic, and had still not recovered to their prepandemic state were retail, and transportation and warehousing. The number of people employed in retail jobs was 1.4 per cent below the prepandemic level, while transportation and warehousing employment levels were 5.8 per cent below what they were in 2019.

“Despite record job vacancies, accommodation and food services had the slowest employment growth since 2019,” the report stated, adding that this could partly reflect workers switching to other industries amid health concerns and repeated pandemic-related restrictions.

By contrast, jobs in the services-producing sector grew by 5.2 per cent, according to the report, with the annual employment level remaining just 0.2 per cent below 2019 levels.

Annual employment change

by industry in Ontario

Comparison to pre-pandemic 2019, in thousands of jobs

Professional, scientific, tech. services

70.5

Finance, ins., real estate, rental, leasing

34.9

Public administration

32.6

Healthcare/social assistance

18.2

Manufacturing

14.7

Info., culture, recreation

7

Educational services

5.5

Forestry, fishing, mining, oil, gas

0.7

Utilities

-2.4

Construction

-6

Agriculture

-7.6

Wholesale/retail trade

-15

Other support serv. (excl. public admin.)

-22.7

Transport./warehousing

-22.8

Businesas, building, other support serv.

-25.3

Accomodation, food services

-92.6

the globe and mail, Source: financial

accountability office of ontario

Annual employment change

by industry in Ontario

Comparison to pre-pandemic 2019, in thousands of jobs

Professional, scientific, tech. services

70.5

Finance, ins., real estate, rental, leasing

34.9

Public administration

32.6

Healthcare/social assistance

18.2

Manufacturing

14.7

Info., culture, recreation

7

Educational services

5.5

Forestry, fishing, mining, oil, gas

0.7

Utilities

-2.4

Construction

-6

Agriculture

-7.6

Wholesale/retail trade

-15

Other support serv. (excl. public admin.)

-22.7

Transport./warehousing

-22.8

Businesas, building, other support serv.

-25.3

Accomodation, food services

-92.6

the globe and mail, Source: financial

accountability office of ontario

Annual employment change by industry in Ontario

Comparison to pre-pandemic 2019, in thousands of jobs

Professional, scientific, tech. services

70.5

Finance, ins., real estate, rental, leasing

34.9

Public administration

32.6

Healthcare/social assistance

18.2

Manufacturing

14.7

Info., culture, recreation

7

Educational services

5.5

Forestry, fishing, mining, oil, gas

0.7

Utilities

-2.4

Construction

-6

Agriculture

-7.6

Wholesale/retail trade

-15

Other support serv. (excl. public admin.)

-22.7

Transport./warehousing

-22.8

Businesas, building, other support serv.

-25.3

Accomodation, food services

-92.6

the globe and mail, Source: financial accountability office of ontario

Much of the job growth in the service sector was driven by jobs that could be done remotely. The number of people employed in professional, scientific and technical services soared by 14 per cent (or 93,600 jobs) between February, 2020, and December, 2021, while the finance, insurance and real estate sectors saw job growth of 6.3 per cent (or 38,200 jobs) in that same time frame.

“Since 2019, employment gains have been concentrated in positions that usually require a university education, while losses were observed in occupations that usually require less education,” said Mr. Weltman.

Data from the report showed that since 2019, there was an 8.3-per-cent gain in employment (equivalent to 196,900 jobs) among those with a university education, while those who had completed high school or occupational training certifications saw a 7.5-per-cent decline in employment levels. “This discrepancy could suggest that some employers may be open to hiring someone without a university degree, but may substitute that with on-the-job training,” Mr. Weltman said.

The report also showed that recent immigrants between ages 25 and 54 seemed to find jobs easily, compared with those born in Canada. Employment levels among recent immigrants rose by 8.3 per cent in 2021 – that number was just 1.9 per cent in 2019. Employment grew by just 1.8 per cent among those born in Canada in that same age group.

The unemployment rate among visible minorities declined from 17.4 per cent to 7.4 per cent between July, 2020, and December, 2021. Over that same period, the unemployment rate amongst those who did not identify as Indigenous or visible minority declined from 9.5 per cent to 4 per cent.

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