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Cynthia Valdivia works at a Neon shoe store in Toronto on Oct. 9, 2020. Ms. Valdivia was off work for two months when the store closed earlier in the pandemic.Melissa Tait/The Globe and Mail

The Canadian economy added 378,200 jobs in September, a result that blew past forecasts but is unlikely to be repeated this fall as new COVID-19 restrictions come into effect.

The unemployment rate declined to 9 per cent from August’s 10.2 per cent, Statistics Canada said Friday. The pace of hiring accelerated from 245,800 jobs created in August. Economists had expected a slower month, with a median estimate of 150,000 positions added.

Instead, the Canadian economy showed vigour on multiple fronts. Nearly all of September’s job creation was in full-time work, which rose by 334,000. Employment grew at similar rates in both the services-producing sector (2.1 per cent) and goods sector (2 per cent), with many hard-hit industries in recovery. Men (1.8 per cent) and women (2.4 per cent) shared in the gains.

All told, roughly 76 per cent of three million positions lost in March and April have been recovered, leaving about 720,000 positions to go. By comparison, the United States has recouped 52 per cent of its pandemic job losses.

“It does look like the economy managed to maintain quite serious momentum in the month,” said Bank of Montreal chief economist Douglas Porter, adding that the return of school was a key factor in September’s results. “Frankly, I think that comes as a pleasant surprise to many of us.”

But with COVID-19 cases rising, and Quebec and Ontario enacting partial lockdowns, the outlook has dimmed. In a note to clients, CIBC Capital Markets senior economist Royce Mendes said last month’s “gains might have represented one last hurrah in the near term for the economy.”

In September, school reopenings had a tangible impact on jobs. Employment for both mothers and fathers has returned to levels prior to COVID-19, unadjusted for seasonality. September saw a spike in mothers returning to work, which Statscan said was driven by a “typical” increase in educational work for this time of year.

Educational services was a standout industry in September, with employment up a record 68,300. Education positions are now 2.6 per cent higher than in February.

That said, the number of mothers working less than half their usual hours was 70 per cent higher than in February, compared with 24 per cent for fathers – a sign that disruptions related to COVID-19, such as sick children, is having a disproportionate impact within families.

For work hours, “we still see a big impact here on moms,” said Tammy Schirle, an economics professor at Ontario’s Wilfrid Laurier University. In September, “there were still a lot of moms having to take time away from work to manage child care and other issues at home.”

Last month was another strong one for accommodation and food services, which saw employment rise by 71,900. Still, total jobs are down 15.3 per cent from February, the worst in any industry. Manufacturing jobs climbed by 68,000 last month and have almost fully recovered.

On the other hand, construction employment was little changed in September, and remains 8.1 per cent lower than its level before COVID-19, making it one of the weakest industries.

The pandemic has been especially hard for low-wage employees earning less than $16.03 an hour, or two-thirds of the 2019 median wage. As of September, employment for this group is down 22.1 per cent, compared with a year ago. For all others combined, employment is up 2.3 per cent.

Ontario notched the strongest provincial performance as employment rose by 167,000, followed by Quebec at 76,700 and B.C. at 54,800. In Alberta, which added 38,200 positions last month, employment is down 5.4 per cent compared with February, the second-worst recovery by province. In particular, Alberta’s manufacturing and energy industries are slow to recover.

One encouraging sign is that many employers want help. New job listings on Indeed Canada were unchanged from last year for a second consecutive week, having clawed back from significant declines earlier in the pandemic.

“We’re seeing improvement across a wide range of the economy, outside of the really pandemic-vulnerable sectors where employees might be interacting with the general public,” said Brendon Bernard, Indeed Canada’s economist.

Heading into the fall, the Canadian job market finds itself in a vulnerable position. Parts of the country are now grappling with a second wave of the virus, which in some cases has led to tighter restrictions. Workers in many industries – such as aviation, restaurants and hotels – could be unemployed for months to come.

Much of Quebec is now under a partial lockdown, while Ontario moved on Friday to shutter many activities – including indoor dining, cinemas and gyms – in Ottawa, Toronto and Peel Region for four weeks, starting Saturday.

“I would be shocked if we didn’t see a considerable slowdown in the October [jobs] report, and likely November as well,” Mr. Porter said.

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