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U.S. payrolls rose far less than expected in March, keeping the door open for further monetary policy support from the Federal Reserve, even as the unemployment rate fell to a three-year low of 8.2 percent.BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS

Employment levels may be drifting sideways, but that doesn't mean the labour market is staying still.

One of the best ways of assessing ebbs and flows in the jobs market is Statistics Canada's payroll employment, earnings and hours survey, out Friday.

Payrolls data aren't as closely watched as StatsCan's labour force survey, chiefly because they are published with a two-month lag. They also don't track things such as self-employment or trends among age and gender.

But this week's report – a business census of non-farm payroll employees – is a treasure trove of information, painting an accurate monthly picture of earnings levels, job numbers and hours worked by industry at the national and provincial levels.

The snapshot will be released in a week heavy with budget news. The Ontario government releases its budget on Tuesday, and the federal government's budget will be published Thursday. As well, the country's gross domestic product for January is out Friday.

The economy – and employment – remain a top concern among Canadians. Here, then, are five key trends in the labour market, based on the most recent payrolls data:

1. A country of clerks

The retail sector is the single largest employer in Canada, with 1.9 million workers. That translates into one in every eight workers. Health care and social assistance, and manufacturing, are the country's next top employers.

2. The move to mining

No other sector has added more jobs in the past year, percentage-wise, than natural resources. Employment has risen 7.7 per cent in mining, quarrying and oil-and-gas extraction sector, mirroring the boom in the industry. Even with the gains, factories still employ seven times as many people.

3. Where jobs are ebbing

The biggest percentage drops in the past year have been in the real estate, rental and leasing area. Education has also shed jobs, along with information and cultural industries.

4. By province

No surprise – Alberta has seen the biggest payrolls gains, followed by Saskatchewan. The Maritime provinces have lost jobs in the past year.

5. Paycheques

Average weekly earnings among payroll employees were 2.4 per cent higher than a year ago, two notches below the current rate of inflation. On average, workers earned $888.26 a week. Year-over-year wage growth is strongest in Newfoundland, where earnings have been higher than the national average since September.