At a glance, Statistics Canada's September jobs report shows many of the signs of a labour market on the right track. The unemployment rate is at its lowest level in nearly five years. Jobs continued to grow – yes, at a slower pace than August's big gain, but the 11,900 net new jobs met economists' expectations. Indeed, September's job gains were almost dead in line with the average pace we've seen throughout the year, reflecting the continuation of modest, if unspectacular, growth in the labour market.
It's all trending in the right direction – and that's a trend that has been serving the Canadian economy well, hasn't it?
Maybe not. In this case, the trend is not our best friend. It's not bad, but it's not good enough.
Canada's working-age population typically grows at an annual rate of about 1.4 per cent; that's about the same as the average annual growth in the labour force over the past 10 years. (The labour force typically accounts for about two-thirds of working-age Canadians.) At that pace, the economy needs to add about 22,000 jobs a month just to keep pace with trend labour-force growth.
Since the recession, labour-force growth has significantly slowed; the pace has been 1.1 per cent annually, on average, over the past five years. But even that rate implies that we need to add about 17,000 jobs a month just to keep up.
So far in 2013, the average monthly job growth (seasonally adjusted) has been 12,500. While that is slightly ahead of the tepid labour-force growth this year (it has average 9,000 a month on a seasonally adjusted basis), it's clearly nothing to write home about. And it's inadequate to keep up with the natural rate of expansion in the country's work force.
Indeed, when officials (including those at the Bank of Canada and the Harper government) talk about Canada's remarkable jobs recovery since the recession, they rarely put it in the context of how much the labour market itself has grown at the same time. Since employment bottomed in mid-2009, Canada has added more than one million jobs – but at the same time, its labour force has also grown by 800,000 available workers.
If we also take into account all the jobs that were lost in the recession (430,000 between October, 2008, and July, 2009) that had to be gained back, Canada's employment is 600,000 above its pre-recession peak – a figure Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz highlighted in a speech on the Canadian economy just last month. But when you consider that the labour force is 800,000 bigger than it was before the recession, it's not that impressive, is it?
In fact, it looks like, we're 200,000 jobs short of being back even with where we were before the global economy hit the fan.