When a lack of job ads hinted at high unemployment rates

There was a recession on in January 1991, and newspapers seemed to show evidence of that even before the government statistics did.

Unemployment stats weren't out, but few ads seeking workers suggested they weren't good

Job ads tell recession story

32 years ago
Duration 1:37
A low number of "help wanted" newspaper ads suggests unemployment levels are climbing in 1991.

The want ads didn't want much.

That there was a recession on in Canada was already apparent by January 1991, and the point was made all too real by newspapers' thin job listings.

Statistics Canada had yet to release unemployment figures, but as The National told viewers on Feb. 6, 1991, the government agency's Help Wanted Index showed that the news for job-seekers "wasn't very good."

"It's dropped 7.1 per cent between December and January," said host Peter Mansbridge that night. "That means people who need work will have a tougher time finding it."

'Hardly any ads'

One auto-body shop applicant said that for the first time in his life, he had been unable to find work. And it was like that for "a lot of other trades too," he said. (The National/CBC Archives)

Business reporter Der Hoi-Yin visited an auto body shop where one newspaper ad had yielded 50 responses from qualified applicants — "ten times" what the assistant manager had expected.

Alvin Johnson had been out of work for eight months, said Der. 

"The jobs are scarce," Johnson said. "There are hardly any ads in the paper."

Der noted that "exactly" one year earlier, the Toronto Sun had run 17 pages of Help Wanted ads.

"Today, seven and a half pages," she said, as viewers got a glimpse inside the composing room at the newspaper, where ads were pasted up on pages that would be sent to the printer.

"That tells me that money's pretty tight out there, people are not expanding their businesses and they don't need the bodies," said Peter Leupen, assistant ad director at the paper. 

According to the Globe and Mail on Feb. 9, 1991, Statistics Canada announced the jobless rate had climbed to 9.7 per cent in January, with a "net loss" of 90,000 jobs that month. A total of 1.3 million Canadians were unemployed.

As seen in the paste-up room at the Toronto Sun, job ads no longer occupied as many pages as they once had. (The National/CBC Archives)

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