An Update from Service Canada

Labour market conditions in Nova Scotia were closer to normal in August as employment rose by 7,200 month- over-month. There was a pronounced shift toward part-time work, however: part-time employment comprised all of the overall job gains, while the number of full-time workers decreased slightly. Full-time employment losses in the midst of a recovery may reflect ongoing adjustments by businesses to adapt to uncertain and challenging conditions.

Positive labour force growth resumed following a small contraction in July, driving the participation rate above 60%. The unemployment rate declined for the third month in a row to 10.3%, but remained well above the 7.8% reported prior to the pandemic in February.

The level of employment was down by 4.4% on a year-over-year basis, with 20,400 fewer workers than in August 2019. A bit less than two-thirds of the job losses between February and April have since been recovered. The largest rise in employment occurred in June following the reopening of many hard-hit service sector businesses; subsequent increases have been more moderate as ongoing social distancing and travel restrictions continue to reverberate through the economy.

Of the three major age groups, youth (15 to 24 years of age) have experienced the greatest employment decline as a result of COVID-19. Year-over-year, youth employment was down by 13.9%, compared to decreases of 1.2% for prime working age individuals (25 to 54 years of age) and 7.4% for older workers (55 years and older). Nearly two-in-five youth were laid off between Feburary and April, and as of July approximately half of this decrease had been regained. However, the recovery stalled in August as the number of workers in this age group went down again, by 2.2% (-1,200). This figure was surpassed by the number of youth who exited the labour force altogether 3,300—possibly due to discouragement regarding current employment prospects. As a result, the youth unemployment rate went down to 18.9% despite the job losses.

Among prime working age individuals, conditions in August were quite positive. The number of workers in this age group surged by 3.4%, split evenly between full- and part-time work, which returned employment to a level comparable to the months before the pandemic. While the rebound of female employment lagged that of males in previous months, females accounted for nearly 90% of the gains in August, eliminating this disparity.

As with youth, employment growth faltered among older workers this month. Following a large gain in July, employment in this age group dipped by 1,000 (-1.0%), remaining well below pre-pandemic levels.

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Regional Information

In Cape Breton, the number of workers was down by 5.7% year-over-year, wiping out modest gains in 2019 which had seemed to signal a reprieve from long-term employment decline in the region. The labour force contracted by a smaller amount (2.4%) resulting in a higher number of unemployed job seekers. As a result, the unemployment rate rose to 15.9%, the highest in the province. Cape Breton, which hosts a large seasonal tourism industry, has been severely affected by travel restrictions, the cancellation of the 2020 cruise ship season, and the termination of some Air Canada flights to Sydney. However, non-residential construction is a bright spot in this region, with a variety of projects including new healthcare and community college facilities getting underway.

Among economic regions, the North Shore experienced the largest annual employment decline at -13.9%, while the unemployment rate increased to 11.4%. In addition to the impact of COVID-19, which appears to have hit wholesale and retail trade in this region particularly hard, the closure of the Northern Pulp mill in January has also eroded employment in manufacturing and forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas. Looking forward, the construction industry will be boosted for several years by a 38 kilometer highway twinning project between New Glasgow and Antigonish which began this summer.

There were 9.7% fewer workers in the Annapolis Valley than in August 2019, with the employment decline spread across multiple industries. Despite rising several percentage points to 10.2%, the unemployment rate was the lowest in the province. Employment in agriculture was comparable to last summer at approximately 3,000, despite concerns about a shortage of seasonal labour this spring. While the agriculture industry was spared the poor spring weather experienced in 2018 and 2019, prolonged dryness throughout the summer may have compromised some crops.

Southern Nova Scotia experienced an unusual 4.0% increase in employment year-over-year. This may reflect a return to more normal employment levels following a series of unusually low performances in 2019. Despite the employment growth, the unemployment rate rose to 11.6% as 3,500 more individuals entered the labour force. Accommodations and food services shed more than one-quarter of its employment base compared to last August, which may reflect the importance of the large tourism industry in this region. Another major economic concern for this part of the province is low global demand and prices for lobster; while fishers are currently in-between lobster fishing seasons, the effect of this trend is reportedly being felt by seafood processors.

Aside from the Southern region Halifax had the least severe year-over-year employment decline, at -4.6%. The working age population increased by 2.4% over the past year, with international and interprovincial migration continuing throughout the pandemic. Declines in retail trade and accommodation and food services have been comparable to elsewhere, and some downtown establishments have noted that former commuters now working from home have further eroded their usual revenue. However, the overall change in employment was limited somewhat by the large presence of industries with stable or even positive job growth, such as public administration, professional, scientific, and technical services and business, building, and other support services.

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Prepared by: Labour Market Analysis Directorate, Service Canada, Atlantic Region
For further information: please contact the LMI team
For information on the Labour Force Survey: please visit the Statistics Canada Website