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The jobs slump: What’s hot, what’s not

The string of glum economic news continues, with payrolls numbers showing employment slid at the tail end of last year, driven by declines in administration, retail trade and, in a shift from prior months, natural resources.

Non-farm payroll employment fell by 19,100 in December, marking three declines in the past four months, Statistics Canada's survey of employment, payrolls and hours shows. It's a contrast to the agency's labour force survey, which showed strength in the last quarter of the year that seemed at odds with a slowing economy.

The two surveys often paint differing pictures of the labour market.

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The payrolls numbers are essentially a census of administrative data and produced with a two-month lag.

They may be less timely, but they give insights on trends in occupations, wages and worked hours.

The labour force survey, by contrast, is a sample survey of 54,000 people. It's more timely - the first major economic indicator of the month - and gives details on age groups, gender and labour trends by city, but is also subject to sampling errors.

Both surveys can be volatile, but the SEPH "seems to be more in tune (than the LFS) with economic realities of the second half of 2012," notes National Bank Financial senior economist Krishen Rangasamy.

Tuesday's data show sturdy earnings, with average weekly earnings of non-farm payroll employees rising 0.3 per cent in December and 2.8 per cent from a year earlier, well above the rate of inflation. All told, average earnings amount to $908 a week.

Hours worked, however, have ebbed, suggesting those earnings gains have stemmed from higher wages rather than longer hours. Average hours worked - which the Bank of Canada has noted remain "relatively low" - fell to 32.8 hours per week from 33.1 a month earlier.

The softer picture comes as data on retail sales, inflation and exports all point to a soft patch in the economy. Central bank Governor Mark Carney noted this week that recent economic reports have been on the soft side. "In the very near term, more of the elements of the downside risks have materialized than the upside risks."

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Here's what the payrolls numbers reveal on what was up and what was down last year.

What's hot

Professionals. Average weekly earnings at professional, scientific and technical services swelled 5.9 per cent to $1,263 in the 12 months to December. "The largest growth was in advertising, public relations, and related services; computer systems design and related services; and legal services," the agency said.

Saskatchewan. The Prairie province posted the strongest earnings growth in the country, with average weekly earnings climbing 5 per cent to $936 in the year to December. Main contributors to the growth were in health care and social assistance.

Natural resources. The sector may be entering a lull, as commodity prices subside, but it was a key source of employment growth last year. Mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction posted the highest growth, percentage-wise, at 5.6 per cent. Even with the growth it remains a relatively small source of employment. The sectors that employ the most people in the country were retail trade as of December, followed by health care and social assistance and manufacturing.

What's not

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Forestry. It may be picking up now, as U.S. demand for lumber grows, but this sector saw the biggest percentage decline last year. Forestry and logging shrank 6.9 per cent in the year. In sheer numbers, public administration saw the biggest drop.

Quebec. Year-over-year earnings growth in Quebec was the slowest of all provinces, rising 1.6 per cent, compared with a national average of 2.8 per cent. Ontario, too, was below average, where wage growth clocked in at 2.2 per cent.

Retail trade. It may be Canada's largest source of employment, but average weekly earnings grew just 0.9 per cent, the smallest increase of the country's 10 largest sectors. A smaller industry - utilities - actually saw an earnings decline of 3.9 per cent (in other words, weekly earnings were $64.84 lower in December of 2012 than they were in the same month a year earlier).

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