FORT ST. JOHN, B.C. — Northeast B.C.’s unemployment was too low to record last month, but analysts say the region’s labour market is still facing challenges.
October marked the fifth time unemployment rates were too low to report in 2022.
According to Statistics Canada, unemployment data in the region was “suppressed to meet the confidentiality requirements of the Statistics Act” in January, February, March, September and October.
The act states that data below 1,500 unemployed people is suppressed “to prevent direct or residual disclosure of identifiable data. Consequently, geographic areas whose population is below a certain threshold are not published.”
There were 38,000 northeast residents employed in October, a slight decrease from the 38,200 employed in September.
Last October, 36,000 were employed in the region, and the unemployment rate was 2.2 per cent.
According to the Chartered Professional Accountants of British Columbia (CPABC), Northeast B.C.’s labour participation rate in September 2022 was lower than in September 2019.
Ben Sander, partner at Sander Rose Bone Grindle and a fellow of CPA, said the decline in the labour participation rate is a “concerning sign” because the region relies on the working-age population to drive the economy.
The labour participation rate is the portion of working-aged people actively seeking employment or who are employed.
“It has also become a growing challenge for businesses looking to add employees, particularly in the service sector where many industries have struggled to recover. Conversely, the natural resource workforce saw significant growth.”
The northeast has the highest overall employment rate, 68.3 per cent as of September, out of all of the economic regions of B.C.
The northeast also has the highest labour participation rate of 70.7 per cent in September 2022.
In September 2021, the rate was 69.7 per cent and 76.1 per cent in September 2019.
The service sector in Northeast B.C. reportedly fell to 24,000 employees in September 2022, a 0.8 per cent decline compared to the same time last year and a 6.6 per cent decline from September 2019.
According to CPABC’s report, employment in the hospitality industry has fallen 9.1 per cent since September 2021 and declined by a third compared to the same time in 2019.
Wholesale/retail employment decreased by 9.6 per cent from last year and by 13 per cent compared to 2019.
“The employment data highlights that our economy still has not fully recovered. Worryingly, the region’s job vacancy rate hit a record high this year, and many businesses have struggled to find enough employees to fill open positions,” Sander said.
“To improve our economic outlook, it is critical that barriers to re-entering the labour market are minimized, and the region is marketed as an affordable and attractive place to immigrate.”
However, the goods sector employment increased by 17.5 per cent compared to September 2021.
According to the CPABC, this can be attributed to an increase in natural resource employment, with the industry’s workforce increasing to 6,500.
B.C.’s unemployment rate slightly increased to 4.4 per cent in October from 4.3 per cent in September.
“Last month, we saw significant growth in our manufacturing and construction sectors, which speaks to the efforts of so many to build the homes and infrastructure we need and help bolster and grow our supply chains so people can benefit from their products being made closer to home,” said Ravi Kahlon, minister of jobs, economic recovery and innovation.
Nationally, the jobless rate had a slight decrease to 5.1 per cent.