Ontario lost 400,000 jobs in March, but more dire figures may still be on the way

New employment data released by Statistics Canada shows that Ontario lost more than 400,000 jobs in March, but there are concerns the figures don’t yet reflect the full scope of the economic calamity.

The national jump in unemployment is the largest in recorded history

Ontario mandated the closure of non-essential businesses on March 24, three days after Statistics Canada completed its monthly jobs report. (Laura Howells/CBC)

New employment data released by Statistics Canada shows that Ontario lost more than 400,000 jobs in March, but there are concerns the figures don't yet reflect the full scope of the economic calamity wrought by the novel coronavirus.

The staggering losses were reported Thursday by Statistics Canada in the agency's March labour survey, which is based on interviews with more than 100,000 people every month.

Nationally, the report found that over a million people lost their jobs in the wake of unprecedented government interventions to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Here's a snapshot of the employment situation in Ontario (figures all compared to February 2020):

  • 402,800 jobs were lost, including:   
    • 119,600 jobs in accommodation and food services.

    • 87,600 jobs in wholesale and retail trade.

    • 56,000 jobs in health care and social assistance.

    • 32,000 jobs in manufacturing.

  • The unemployment rate grew from 5.5 per cent to 7.6 per cent.

  • 586,000 people are unemployed, an increase of 149,000.

  • The total labour force declined by 253,600.

Ontario's unemployment remains slightly below the national average, which increased to 7.8 per cent compared to 5.6 per cent in February. The jump is the largest monthly increase since comparable data became available in 1976.

However, the agency says most of the increase is the result of temporary layoffs, meaning workers expect to return to their jobs within six months.

Statistics Canada compiled the data the week of March 15 to 21, when increasingly severe measures to combat COVID-19 were adopted across the country.

"It is expected that the sudden employment decline observed in March will have a significant effect on the performance of the Canadian economy over the coming months," reads Statistics Canada's Labour Force Survey.

"The employment decline in March was larger than in any of three significant recessions experienced since 1980."

Statistics Canada is asking all Canadians to participate in an online survey about the impact of COVID-19, which you can access here.

'Deeper impact' expected in April

While the report already shows a nearly unprecedented shock to Canada's economy, there are worries the situation will appear increasingly dire as more recent data becomes available.

While the survey was conducted after many governments, including Ontario's, declared states of emergency, the province did not mandate the closure of non-essential businesses until March 24. Those closures may not be reflected until next month's report.

"We do think there is going to be a much deeper impact as we get into April and we're going to see the full brunt of the social distancing measures," said Pedro Antunes, chief economist at the Conference Board of Canada.

Ontario Premier Doug Ford said his government will 'spare no expense' to help the province recover from the economic impact of COVID-19. (Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press)

The think tank projects that April's job losses will be "significantly higher" than the figures reported on Thursday, with total national job losses amounting to 2.8 million during the pandemic.

Premier Doug Ford called the March job losses "a punch in the gut" during his Thursday news conference, and warned Ontarians "that things could get worse before they get better."

Ford also announced on Thursday the Ontario Jobs and Recovery Committee, which is designed to help the province recover after the pandemic.

"Ontario will create a wave of economic growth not seen in decades," he said

Ontario promises more help for workers

Antunes also notes that many of the affected workers have low-wage jobs, meaning the the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) will cover a larger portion of their lost salary than it does for higher-paid workers.

The CERB, he said "will help tide people over through this very tough period."

The Ford government says it has also set aside $52 million to help people who don't qualify for the CERB.

While Ontario suffered a greater number of job losses than any other province, the figures are roughly in line with Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta when adjusted for population size. Each province lost between five and six per cent of total jobs last month.

In the long run, Antunes said Ontario is unlikely to suffer the same degree of economic loss as Alberta, where low oil prices are threatening the province's energy sector.