Province's employment numbers dropped 25,000 in first impact of COVID-19
'The health-care problem is one side of this. The economic problem is going to have its own victims'
New numbers from Statistics Canada give a "pretty ugly" first snapshot of the pandemic's economic impact on Nova Scotia, but business advocates say the current situation is much worse.
The Labour Force Survey released Thursday shows the number of employed people dropped by 25,000 in March, or 5.5 per cent, compared to the month before.
The survey was taken March 15-21, the first week many businesses were shutting down and laying off workers due to COVID-19 public health rules.
Employment figures include people who worked for pay or profit, performed unpaid family work, or had a job but were not at work due to various reasons like vacation. Those on layoff and people who had a job starting in the near future are not considered employed.
The employment rate — the proportion of the population 15 and older who were employed — also fell to 53.2 per cent in March. That's the lowest level since 2001.
New data shows 'ugly' reality
Employment fell nationally by more than one million in March, or 5.3 per cent. The employment rate fell 3.3 percentage points to 58.5 per cent, the lowest rate since 1997.
"It was predictable," Jordi Morgan, Atlantic vice-president for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, said Friday about the numbers. "They're pretty ugly,"
The reference week used in the national survey was a "tipping point" for many businesses, Morgan said.
"The reality that we are going to see, I think, may be significantly worse when we get into April's results."
Morgan said the CFIB has had "tens of thousands" of calls coming in from businesses small to large.
There won't be a sector left unaffected by the pandemic, he said.
"The stories are distressing," Morgan said. "Even the people who are working, you know, our phones are impacted by this. You have people whose livelihoods—they're seeing it going down the drain. They're afraid. They don't know where to look for help."
Businesses call for direct funding now
Although there are many industry associations trying to find answers, Morgan said entrepreneurs need cash now, or other loan programs so they can hang on to their businesses.
Morgan said the province's offer of rent deferral only pushes people's debt down the road. While he's pleased with the forgivable portion of federal loans, he's heard the province's new grant program is "insufficient."
He said it's going to take some "extraordinary" and innovative measures to make sure everyone pulls through.
"The health-care problem is one side of this," he said. "The economic problem is going to have its own victims."
Unemployment also rose in Nova Scotia by 4,800 people, about 10.9 per cent, up to 48,500.
The unemployment rate — the percentage of unemployed people in the provincial labour force — jumped from 8.7 per cent in February to 10.1 per cent in March.
Food industry likely 'decimated' in Nova Scotia
The survey also broke down job impacts by industry.
Accommodation and food services saw employment numbers drop 22 per cent, more than 8,000 people, from 36,900 employees in February to 28,700 in March.
But Luc Erjavec, Atlantic vice-president of Restaurants Canada, said Friday the reality now is much more bleak.
The organization's own survey, conducted March 25-29, shows 24,500 jobs in food service have been lost in Nova Scotia alone.
The province's $2.1-billion food-service industry represents 4.6 per cent of the province's GDP. Erjavec expects sales to be down $440 million for the second quarter of 2020.
"We're going to be decimated," Erjavec said, adding that many full-service restaurants haven't been able to make the jump to takeout or delivery that is now the only option.
Erjavec said these job losses and closures have quite the "ripple effect," since each dollar spent in the restaurant industry triggers $1.85 in spending in the rest of the community.
Premier says government will be there for entrepreneurs
When asked about the Labour Force Survey in the COVID-19 press conference Thursday, Premier Stephen McNeil agreed it has yet to capture the "full impact" of what's happening in the province.
However, he thanked those people still out working and following the physical distancing protocols. He added the province is hoping to pull forward infrastructure projects in the coming months to help the economy rebound when restrictions are eased.
"I have every bit of confidence that once we see our way through this pandemic, Nova Scotia's entrepreneurs will do what they've always done — start to rebuild and their government will be there with them," McNeil said.