At first glance, July's sharp drop in employment seems an ill omen for the Canadian economy at a time when the U.S. rebound is slowing and parts of Europe are deep in recession.
But a closer look reveals a brighter picture of full-time job gains and modest, yet steady, job growth over the rest of 2012 – the kind of employment that will support domestic demand amid the global slowdown.
The loss of 30,400 jobs reported by Statistics Canada on Friday bumped up July's unemployment rate by a tenth of a percentage point to 7.3 per cent. Obscured by that discouraging number, however, was a significant increase of 21,300 full-time jobs. In addition, bright spots for job growth during July included finance, insurance and real estate, all sectors relatively immune to a downturn in commodity prices.
It was the loss of 51,600 part-time jobs that dragged overall employment down.
"My impression is that July's job losses are not as bad as initially meets the eye," said Leslie Preston, an economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank.
After the Canadian job market showed outsized gains in April and March, when employment jumped by 82,000 and 58,000 respectively, the modest job growth since then and July's net loss looks discouraging, but full-time employment has actually grown by an average of 30,000 jobs a month since February. This is a respectable advance given Canada's roughly 1.9-per-cent pace of economic growth in recent quarters.
"In the spring, Canadian job creation was actually looking a little too hot compared to how the economy was growing," Ms. Preston said. "[July] is the start of job growth slowing to a more modest pace that we think is more in line with economic growth."
Ms. Preston said she expects unemployment to remain at 7.3 per cent through the end of the year, and gradually move closer to 7 per cent in 2013.
It's not a stellar performance, especially compared with recent data from the U.S., showing employers did more hiring in July than in any of the five previous months, but there are some particularly bright spots in the Canadian job market.
Job growth in the fields of finance, insurance and real estate continued along an upward trend that began in February, adding 19,000 jobs in July after a gain of 13,900 in June. The information, culture and recreation industries regained 24,000 jobs in July, making up for a string of earlier losses.
July's report also showed average hourly wages rose at their fastest pace in more than three years, hitting $24.49, an increase of 3.9 per cent from the previous year. Manufacturing wages, for example, are 4.4-per-cent higher than a year ago and total hours worked across all sectors also climbed 1.2 per cent over the past 12 months.
While the unemployment rate is still higher than prerecession levels, it is actually tracking near its 10-year average. The lack of an excess pool of workers might also be contributing to wage gains even at a time of slow economic growth.
The labour market is still making gains at levels that are sufficient to maintain household spending and allow people to manage their debt, said Dawn Desjardins, assistant chief economist at Royal Bank of Canada.
"Steady domestic demand will work to counter some of the negative fallout from Europe's painful crisis," Ms. Desjardins said.
But this is small comfort for Canada's traditionally strong export-oriented industries. While employment gains in manufacturing and natural resources accounted for roughly half of all job growth in the first half of the year, the manufacturing sector lost 18,400 jobs in July and hiring in natural resources fell by 8,900.
With files from reporter Kevin Carmichael in Washington