Canada's labour market has hit a wall, with job declines in three of the past four months suggesting turmoil outside the country's borders is denting the confidence of employers.
The country shed 18,600 jobs last month after a tumble of 54,000 in October, marking the first back-to-back monthly drop since the recession. The jobless rate hit a five-month high of 7.4 per cent, Statistics Canada said Friday.
The slowdown comes as deepening global uncertainty is gnawing away at business confidence. Consumers, too, are growing cautious, with a report on gross domestic product earlier this week showing both spending and total domestic demand cooling in the third quarter.
Monthly jobs numbers bounce around, but smoothed-out averages show virtually no growth since the middle of the year. Manufacturing employment tumbled to another record low last month, while in the finance and real estate industry, three-month average job losses are the steepest on record. Meantime, government hiring – a key source of employment in the past few years – is expected to weaken amid budget cuts.
"It's definitely not a friendly trend," said Sheryl King, Canada economist for Merrill Lynch in Toronto. "Certain industries are growing worried about the state of economic growth, and there are signs restructuring is going on in other industries such as the public sector as well."
She sees the jobless rate climbing to 7.7 per cent amid stalled economic growth in the first half of next year.
More Canadians gave up looking for work last month. The country's labour force participation rate fell to 66.6 per cent in November, its lowest level since 2002. The drop may stem largely from young people becoming discouraged, economists said.
That said, details of Friday's Statscan report were better than the headline number suggested. The private sector resumed hiring last month, and full-time positions rose while part-time jobs declined.
Nor do all economists think the jobs market is in trouble. Krishen Rangasamy, senior economist at National Bank Financial, believes the labour market will stabilize in the coming months, helped by accelerating economic growth in the United States.
The country's labour market is clearly delineated along an East-West divide, with provincial jobless rates higher than the national average from Ontario eastward, and lower than average from Manitoba to British Columbia.
Among major cities, Regina has the lowest jobless rate in the country, at just 3.5 per cent.
Barrie, Ont., has the highest, at 11.1 per cent. The city's elevated rate reflects a struggling manufacturing base and a large youth population, which continues to see high unemployment, said Melissa Fletcher, employer liaison at the Barrie employment services centre.
Displaced workers from the manufacturing sector "are not getting offered the $30-an-hour job. Those jobs just don't exist in Barrie right now," she said, adding that much of the growth is in temporary work, or minimum-wage retail jobs that require working evenings or weekends.
Cynthia Richardson is looking for full-time work in the Barrie area, but seeing few opportunities. The 64-year-old is searching for jobs as an administrative assistant and says most require updated computer skills she doesn't have.
"There aren't enough openings for the number of people out there looking," she said.
She expects to work until she's at least 70 to help pay the bills, and says it feels like the recession never ended. "They keep on saying we're over it, but it doesn't seem to end. There always seems to be a few more problems."