Sask. loses 4.5K jobs as national unemployment rate falls to record low

While Canada’s unemployment rate fell, the historically low unemployment rates in Saskatchewan rose slightly, but remain among the lowest unemployment rates in the past several years.

Provincial rate remains second lowest among Canadian provinces

There were nearly 3,000 fewer workers on the job in Saskatchewan in March compared with a month earlier. (CBC News)

Statistics Canada released its labour force survey on Friday and despite fewer jobs filled in Saskatchewan, unemployment rates in March remain at some of the lowest in years.

Canada's unemployment rate has been trending downward since spiking at the beginning of the pandemic, according to data from Statistics Canada, reaching 5.3 per cent in March 2022. It's the lowest unemployment rate since data became available in 1976. 

Despite a steady decline in unemployment across the country, Saskatchewan's jobless rate was higher than last month, rebounding to a rate of five per cent after being recorded at 4.7 in February 2022. There were 4,500 fewer workers in March than in February, but the number of people employed has risen by more than 27,000 since last March when the province was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Saskatchewan had the second lowest unemployment rate in Canada in March, despite employment numbers decreasing alongside Newfoundland and Labrador and Manitoba.

The provincial government is pleased with the current employment situation, with a spokesperson saying "Saskatchewan's economy is on the right track with significant job gains and a low unemployment rate" in an emailed statement.

Jason Childs, an associate professor of economics at the University of Regina, says Saskatchewan lost a little bit of ground, but is returning to the stable rate of unemployment — in the five per cent range — the province has seen before,. 

"We opened up [businesses from pandemic restrictions] earlier than a lot of other jurisdictions and we saw that sort of boom … right out of the gate … and it shouldn't be terribly surprising that we're giving back a little bit of ground here," Childs said.

In 2019, the year leading up to the beginning of the pandemic and the accompanying spike in unemployment, unemployment rates hovered between about five and six per cent in Saskatchewan. It spiked to 12.3 per cent in May 2020 and has been gradually returning to normal since, according to Statistics Canada data.

Childs says he doesn't expect the unemployment rate to rise or fall much more, and will likely remain stable around the five per cent mark that it reached in March.

"The fact we're at five per cent again suggests we're in a fairly stable outcome for right now," he said. "Small fluctuations around that stable level, we shouldn't overread that."

That goes for month-to-month movement in general, he says. 

Data shows that this most recent rise in unemployment was driven by wholesale and retail trade and the services-producing sector. 

However, the agriculture industry lost about four per cent of its employees, according to Statistics Canada. That surprised Childs, but because of the small sample size in the sector the data shouldn't be "over-interpreted," he said.

The year-over-year drop was even more substantial: a 23 per cent drop in employment from March 2021. 

"It was a bad harvest last year, it wasn't a good year, and I think people are proceeding a little more cautiously this year," he said, adding  higher fuel prices and higher fertilizer prices must be added into the mix.

Childs expects that the future will hold an influx of job opportunities, stemming from projects made possible with federal money or incentives, like the carbon capture and storage tax credit.

"You're going to see a lot of demand for construction, you're going to see demand in the more services side ... so it's going to be, for the next little while, where are businesses going to find the workers," he said. 

That may mean bringing in foreign workers, he said.

While, nationally, the rise in employment is good, Childs cautioned it will likely create inflationary pressure and could lead to a hike in interest rates from the Bank of Canada.