Nfld. & Labrador

Part-timers bludgeoned as N.L. economy sheds 5,800 jobs

Newfoundland and Labrador's economy lost 5,800 jobs last month, and part-timers took the brunt of that pandemic-driven economic shock.

In a head-scratcher, unemployment rates drops slightly, and full-time jobs increase

The labour force survey from March presented some unexpected results for Newfoundland and Labrador. Despite the economic shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, the province's unemployment rate actually fell slightly, and full-time employment was up. (Shutterstock/Pitamaha)

Newfoundland and Labrador's economy lost 5,800 jobs last month, and part-timers took the brunt of that pandemic-driven economic shock.

Statistics Canada on Thursday released employment data from March that revealed a loss of 7,000 part-time jobs when compared with February numbers, or a plunge of nearly 20 per cent.

"The picture isn't great," said Lynn Gambin, an associate professor of economics at Memorial University in St. John's.

She said it appears those in the labour force who are most vulnerable are enduring the hardest hits from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The province's retail, service and hospitality sectors have been pummelled by the imposition of strict physical distancing measures aimed at controlling the spread of the virus, and this has resulted in a dramatic slowdown or outright closure of many businesses.

Lynn Gambin, an economist at Memorial University in St. John's, keeps a close watch on the province's labour market. (Eddy Kennedy/CBC)

So as businesses cut their workforces, part-timers are first to go.

"That's a bit worrying," said Gambin, explaining that most people in this cohort are already struggling financially.

Surprisingly, that drop was offset by an increase of more than 1,100 full-time jobs, but many of those may have since disappeared as major employers slow or stop production because of public healthy emergency orders. 

Gambin said another worrying indicator is the shrinking labour force, which is made up of those employed or actively looking for work.

She said that pool of people shrunk by 7,200 last month, or three per cent of the labour force.

But with the economy practically seized up, that's not entirely surprising because many people may feel it's pointless to look for work. Others may have decided to retire or to leave the province, said Gambin.

A sobering situation that will get worse

The labour force survey is the first scientific look at how the province's economy is being bludgeoned by the pandemic, but Gambin said people need to prepare for more sobering news in a month's time, when the April survey is released.

That's when the effects of significant layoffs at the Come By Chance oil refinery, the West White Rose construction project and a vast number of small- and medium-sized businesses will be revealed.

I don't think the shock has hit yet. It's going to get worse. I think people need to be prepared for that.- Lynn Gambin

"I don't think the shock has hit yet. It's going to get worse. I think people need to be prepared for that," she said.

Thursday's report contains some head-scratching information.

For example, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate actually dropped slightly to 11.7 per cent, down from 12 per cent in February.

The unemployment rate increased in all provinces except Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island, with the biggest jumps in Quebec (3.6 per cent), British Columbia (2.2 per cent) and Ontario (2.1 per cent).

While the survey shows that Canada's economy shed more than one million jobs in March, the data for this province shows an increase of full-time employment.

"My impression is there's some weird stuff going on," said Doug May, a veteran economist at MUN.

That's despite the fact that while the survey data was being gathered — March 15-21 — government was in the process of closing schools and non-essential businesses and imposing strict physical distancing measures.

"We stand out from other provinces," May said.

"This is giving us a hint of the trends, but I think a much more realistic pictures will come in April," he added.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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