Jobs numbers go up and down, but one measure hasn't budged in recent months: Many Canadians are sitting on the sidelines of the labour market.
The country's participation rate, or the share of the population aged 15 and over in the work force, stayed at a 13-year low last month. At 66 per cent, it hasn't shifted in four months and is more than a percentage point lower than 2008 levels.
Low participation spells challenges ahead as a large number of people aren't holding jobs and adding oomph to the economy.
There are plenty of reasons to stay out of the work force, from family care to feeling discouraged or attending school. But a key factor is one without a quick fix: Canada's aging population.
All told, there were a quarter of a million more Canadians, or 250,700 people, out of the labour force last month compared with a year earlier. More than three-quarters of those newly out of the work force were aged 65 and older, noted Andrew Fields, labour market analyst at Statistics Canada.
"This is the real reason for a stagnant participation rate; a large proportion of Canadians are aging and exiting the labour market."
The majority of core-aged workers – aged 25 to 54 – who are out of the labour force say they don't want to work, which may be due to school, health or family reasons, he noted.
Over all, the Canadian economy shed 10,700 jobs last month, with the country's unemployment rate rising to 6.6 per cent from a near six-year low of 6.5 per cent a month earlier, Statistics Canada said Friday.
The Bank of Canada this week said it sees signs of a "broadening recovery," though the labour market still points to slack in the economy. It didn't specify where it sees slack, but it may be in still-elevated involuntary part-timers, flat hours worked – and slowing wage growth.
Average hourly wages of permanent employees rose 1.6 per cent in November from year-earlier levels, decelerating from 1.9 per cent a month earlier. That is the slowest pace since May and below the rate of inflation.
On the bright side, the average pace of hiring has improved over the year. In the past half-year, employment has risen by an average of 21,300 a month, a faster pace than the 3,000 new jobs on average in the previous six months, the agency said.
Much of the job growth in the past year has been part time, but that reversed in November. Full-time jobs increased by 5,700 while part-time positions fell 16,300 last month. In the past year, part-time work has grown 1.9 per cent while full-time jobs have risen 0.6 per cent. In that period, total hours worked are little changed.
Other solid signs for Canada's jobs market are a U.S. economy that is showing vigour and a weaker dollar which is a boon to exporters.
On the flip side, weaker commodity prices and the ripple effects of lower energy prices could dent business confidence and hiring plans.
Among industries, trade trimmed 41,600 jobs while employment also fell in transportation and professional services. Natural resources added 14,800 positions – despite weaker commodity prices – though that comes after a decline in the prior month of 22,200 jobs.
In the past year, the accommodation and food services sector has seen the biggest employment gains, percentage-wise. Information and culture along with natural resources have tallied the largest declines.
This year "has come and is almost gone," noted Arlene Kish, senior principal economist at IHS Global Insight. "Canada's job market has been mired by many ups and downs, a falling participation rate and slowing wage growth."