Canada's recovering economy continued to churn out new jobs last month, adding 60,000 full-time positions.
Most of the gains came in the public sector and many were filled by men aged 55 or older, Statistics Canada said Friday.
The February unemployment rate of 8.2 per cent was the lowest reported since April 2009, as the recovery from a sharp Canadian recession was, in retrospect, beginning.
The gain in full-time jobs — including 26,000 filled by men over 55 — was partially offset by a loss of 39,000 part-time positions.
As a result, there was a net gain of 21,000 full- and part-time jobs in February.
"That most of the gains came in the older male demographic doesn't surprise me because that was the demographic that suffered the most losses in the first place," United Steelworkers economist Erin Weir said Friday in reaction to the employment data.
"But what I did find encouraging was the increase in full-time work coupled with a decrease in part time. It looks like companies are starting to upgrade some of their part timers, which we view as a positive thing for the economy," Weir said.
Some 46,000 of the jobs created in February came in the public sector, although the private sector also posted more modest gains.
The goods-producing sector, which again posted large losses during last year's slump, also fared well as the troubled manufacturing industry picked up 17,000 workers, and natural resources rose 11,000.
Jobs added in 5 of last 7 months
Since July, Canada has added 159,000 new jobs, an impressive record considering the United States continues to shed workers.
That is about the time when Canada's economy turned a corner from negative growth to positive, picking up steam in the last three months of 2009, when output rebounded strongly at five per cent annualized growth.
Finance Minister Jim Flaherty says the country's economy remains fragile, but calls the modest improvement in the unemployment rate a sign conditions are moving in the right direction.
He also said Friday he was not surprised by the data, saying he's been hearing "fairly positive" news from business to this point.
"The jobs data is consistent with the most recent GDP data, which reflects that a recovery is underway," Weir said. "Overall these numbers are quite strong."
Economists had been expecting a slightly more modest gain of 15,000, but also cautioned that a big number could be in the offing given the unseasonably mild weather during February and the Vancouver Olympics factor.
"The unemployment rate drop to 8.2 per cent was not only a result of the 21,000 job gains but also a reflection of the drop in the participation rate," CIBC economist Krishen Rangasamy noted Friday.
The Olympic factor seemed to be borne out as there were 27,000 additional jobs in the accommodation and food services industries, and a 10,000 job gain in British Columbia that shaved 0.4 percentage points from the provinces unemployment rate.
But Statistics Canada said the construction industry dropped 11,000 workers, an unexpected development given the weather and the robust housing market.
"The real estate service sector also slipped, so I wonder what that says about the housing boom," Weir said.
Regionally, most provinces were either on the positive side of the ledger or flat. Alberta was the exception to the national trend, as it suffered a 15,000-employment decline in February. It was the second straight month of employment declines in the province.