Okay, it's not exactly year-end, but close enough to start toting up the economic winners and losers. The Canadian economy has had a decent year on most counts, including jobs.
Things could be better, but as of November (the last month for which Statistics Canada has released figures) employment was up a just-about-acceptable 1.6 per cent compared to where it was at the end of 2011. (Note: Calculations based on the percentage change in seasonally adjusted employment between December, 2011 and November, 2012). The overall figure, however, masks some big discrepancies between sectors, meaning that it could feel like a boom or a recession -- depending which industry you are in.
So, from the standpoint of employment, let's look at the year-to-date industry winners and losers.
The first thing to note is that this has been a better year – so far anyway – for the goods producing industries than for the services producing ones. Jobs in goods producing industries (which account for about 22 per cent of the Canadian total) grew 1.9 per cent year-to-date as of November, compared to 1.5 per cent for services-producing industries (78 per cent). Most of the strength in the goods-producing sector was in the first part of the year, however, with jobs sliding over the last six months.
Within the goods producing industries, the utilities sector grew by a stunning 10.9 per cent in employment terms, and was the only Canadian sector to expand by double digits. The category is dominated by electric power and natural gas distribution, and is one that is likely to expand further in 2013 and the medium term. Investment in the sector is rising despite weak prices and it could clearly become an economic driver for Canada.
Also notable within the goods sector is manufacturing, which has seen something of a resurgence this year. Total manufacturing employment is up 2.6 per cent year-to-date, although at about 1.8 million the level of employment is still a good 11 per cent below where it was five years ago. The recovery of the manufacturing sector has been something of a story in 2012, particularly in the U.S. where mid-level companies have been finding some success in serving export markets.
Unfortunately, what looked like a parallel trend in Canada may be petering out, with employment declining in recent months. Although it has been a while since Canadian manufacturers relied on a soft Canadian dollar to boost business, there seems to be some evidence that the recent strength of the loonie is making it difficult for the sector to manage much growth, and indeed manufacturing shipments also declined in the most recent month.
Within the service-producing industries, the biggest jobs winner was 'Educational Services', a broad category which includes teachers at all levels, about 90 per cent of which are in the public sector. In total, the category as up by 7.7 per cent, although there is considerable variation within it. The number of primary school teachers (60 per cent of the total) grew 7.0 per cent year-over-year in November (the data at this level is not adjusted for seasonality so cannot be looked at year to date) while the number of community college instructors (who are about 10 per cent of the total ) grew a whopping 29 per cent to about 133,000. The number of university instructors was up about 2.8 per cent. In the private sector portion of educational services, total employment was up 2.1 per cent year-over-year in November.
Other big winners within services include finance, insurance and real estate (6.1 per cent), business and professional services (3.7 per cent) and information and cultural industries (2.1 per cent). The professional and scientific category lost jobs (-2 per cent). Employment in public administration was down by 1 per cent year-to-date according to the narrowest definition (not including those public sector employees who work in health and social services or in the education sector). As much as that is the category people love to hate, it is also true that it accounts for about one in twenty Canadian jobs.
With governments at all levels looking for cost savings, this is a category that is likely to shrink (although perhaps not in U.S.-style) over the next year or so. Whether this is good or bad is a matter of opinion – but what is not up for debate is that if the public sector slows, then the private sector needs to make up the difference.
Is employment the most important barometer of how an economy is doing? Not necessarily. Companies can be slow to reduce payrolls if the economy slows, for example, but this is probably less a factor than in previous cycles, as businesses have learned to be nimble in keeping costs in line. We're likely seeing the opposite – an economy gaining momentum but employers cautious in their hiring. If so, then 2013 should be a strong year for employment.
Linda Nazareth is the principal of Relentless Economics and senior fellow for economics and population change at the Macdonald Laurier Institute. Visit her at relentlesseconomics.com