British Columbia

B.C. lost nearly 400,000 jobs in March and April, province says

Finance Minister Carole James said more than 396,500 jobs were lost across the province over the past two months. Those numbers, she said, don't include the people who stopped looking for work.

Nearly half of those jobs were in food service, retail; stats don't include those who stopped seeking work

A pedestrian walks under the Cambie Street Bridge in downtown Vancouver on April 29. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

B.C.'s unemployment rate rose by nearly two-thirds from March to April, Statistics Canada said Friday, with hundreds of thousands of jobs wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The provincial jobless rate jumped from 7.2 per cent to 11.5 per cent last month, according to the latest Labour Force Survey data.

Addressing the grim numbers late Friday morning, B.C. Finance Minister Carole James confirmed more than 396,500 jobs were lost across the province over the past two months. Just over 264,000 positions were eliminated in April alone.

Those numbers, she said, don't include the people who were already out of work and stopped looking for a new job.

"Those jobs [numbers] are people. They're families. They're businesses," James said.

B.C. Finance Minister Carole James addresses the latest unemployment numbers in B.C. on May 8. (Mike McArthur/CBC)

The minister said more than 47 per cent of the positions lost were in the food service and retail sectors. She said the numbers are "staggering" and emblematic of an economic crisis affecting the entire country.

"This is an incredible jump from before the pandemic," James said.

B.C.'s unemployment rate was just five per cent in February, before the local peak of the pandemic. 

James said more than 400,000 people have applied for the B.C. Emergency Benefit for Workers since the application portal opened exactly one week ago. The benefit provides a one-time, tax free payment of $1,000 to those whose work has been affected by COVID-19.

The unparalleled job losses have implications for the provincial pocketbook, with fewer workers paying income taxes, fewer shoppers paying sales taxes and far fewer travellers fuelling tourism revenue, among myriad other factors.

"It's going to have an impact on the budget and I expect that's not going to be a short-term impact, it's going to be a longer-term impact," James said, adding the first quarterly report at the end of the summer will give more details.

The minister added it's too early to tell whether the job statistics are the worst such numbers B.C. will see during the pandemic, even as the province moves toward the first phase of its reopening plan later this month.

"'Is this the worst of it?' ... is the question everyone will be asking," James said.

"I think we've got a hard road ahead. I don't want to sugarcoat this … but I'm also confident that we're going to see some very strong work and start to see that recovery occur," she continued.

"We will be watching very carefully the months of May and June."

Millions of Canadian jobs lost 

Statistics Canada said two million jobs were lost across the country last month.

The national unemployment rate is now the second highest on record at 13 per cent. The rate was only higher in December 1982, when unemployment hit 13.1 per cent as a result of the 1981-82 recession.

A chart showing gains and losses for Canadian job numbers illustrates how far those numbers plummeted in April 2020, when nearly two million positions were lost. (CBC News)

Economists, on average, had expected the loss of four million jobs and an unemployment rate of 18 per cent this April, according to financial markets data firm Refinitiv.

The unemployment rate would have been 17.8 per cent had the agency's labour force survey counted among the unemployed the 1.1 million who stopped looking for work — likely because the COVID-19 economic shutdown has limited job opportunities.

Statistics Canada said number of hours worked in B.C. dropped by more than 23 per cent from February to April.

British Columbia announced its plans to gradually reopen its economy earlier this week. The province said retail stores, hair salons, child care, restaurants, libraries and museums could reopen soon. Elective surgeries, dental services and physiotherapy are also set to resume in mid-May.

Nightclubs, bars and casinos will not reopen anytime soon, however, and all reopenings will depend on detailed plans to avoid transmission of COVID-19.

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With files from The Canadian Press