Canada lost more than 1 million jobs last month as COVID-19 struck

Canada’s economy lost more than one million jobs in March, Statistics Canada said Thursday, pushing the jobless rate up to 7.8 per cent.

Economists had been expecting the figure to come it at around 500,000 jobs lost, which already would have been the worst month for job losses on record.

Every month, the data agency surveys Canadians over the course of a single week.

March’s data is culled from surveys in the week that started March 15 — a tumultuous week for Canadian society, as within seven days Canadians went from planning March break vacations to sheltering in place and businesses across the country locked themselves down to try to contain the spread of COVID-19.

According to Statistics Canada, 19.2 million Canadians had paid work in February.

But March’s data shows that more than one million of them no longer did the following month.

And the true employment picture is likely even worse. The data agency notes that on top of the one million people who became unemployed during the month, another 1.3 million Canadians worked no paid hours because of lockdowns but technically still considered themselves to have jobs.

Another 800,000 Canadians worked less than half of their usual workload.

Biggest spike in jobless rate in 44 years

The huge plunge in paid work caused the jobless rate to move up by 2.2 percentage points, to 7.8 per cent. That’s the biggest monthly increase in the jobless rate in records that date back to 1976.

Statistics Canada says the closest comparable sudden decline in economic activity and employment was likely the ice storm of 1998 that saw businesses in Ontario and Quebec suddenly and temporarily close up show.

The ice storm caused 166,000 people in Canada to temporarily lose all or most of their paid work. March’s number was eight times higher than that.

“Today’s numbers are just a first snapshot of the deep-freeze that’s hit the Canadian labour market,” said Brendon Bernard, an economist at online job marketplace Indeed.

“After a month of social distancing, a colossal drop in Canadian employment comes as no surprise, but its steepness is still shocking”.


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