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B.C.'s unemployment rate rises to 5.6 per cent in May

Slight worsening follows national trend — although more pronounced — but B.C. remains better than the nation overall
B.C.'s Jobs Minister Brenda Bailey says B.C. retains one of the lowest unemployment rates in Canada, despite seeing it rise to 5.6 per cent in May. (Black Press Media file photo)

B.C.'s unemployment rose in May by 0.6 per cent to 5.6 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. 

Key sectors impacted include construction, which lost 2,400 jobs, and information, culture and recreation, which lost 17,400 jobs. Other sectors like  accommodation and food -- which tends to hire during summer months -- as well as health and social assistance stagnated or had minimal gains. Most of the gains happened in white-collar jobs, but also manufacturing. But the loss of some 10,000 part-time jobs undercut 2,100 new full-time jobs. 

B.C.'s Jobs Minister Brenda Bailey said the provincial unemployment rate remains one of the lowest in the country, below the national average of 6.2 per cent, itself up from 6.1 per cent.

Ironically, higher unemployment rates in B.C. and Canada are among the reasons why the Bank of Canada cut its policy interest rate by 0.25 per cent to 4.75 per cent this week: the labour market has 'slack.' Companies are still hiring, but at a slower pace, the Bank said in its interest rate decision.

"Wage pressures remain but look to be moderating gradually," its report reads. "Overall, recent data suggest the economy is still operating in excess supply."

Bailey praised the Bank of Canada for cutting the rate. 

"Though it was overdue, we welcome this week's interest-rate cut from the Bank of Canada," Bailey said in a statement. "There's still a long way to go, but it's a start for people with mortgages or debt, and businesses seeing higher borrowing costs because of the rates."

The figures drew instant reactions from B.C. United. "As David Eby makes B.C. the most expensive province in Canada, today's StatsCan numbers show that B.C. is losing good-paying jobs," B.C. United's House Leader Todd Stone wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Premier David Eby said an unrelated event late Friday morning that his government is paying close attention to the figures, noting that B.C. ranks second among provinces with a gain of 32,800 private-sector jobs year-over-year. "It's good to be second (but) it doesn't matter unless we are supporting British Columbians with the big challenges they are facing," he said, later pointing to investments in health care and housing. 

Of note are developments in Alberta. Its unemployment rose by 0.2 per cent to 7.2 per cent in May 2024 and that province's construction sector shed 20,000 jobs. The May edition of The Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses' business barometer also sees small businesses in B.C. more optimistic about the future than their counterparts in Alberta.

But these snapshots co-exist with some structural differences currently favouring Alberta, key among them in the area of housing.

CHMC's most recent housing market outlook finds that average two-bedroom rents in Edmonton and Calgary are lower compared to other Census Metropolitan Areas including Vancouver. Average housing prices in Edmonton relative to Vancouver are the  "lowest in decades," CHMC notes.

"With comparable average household incomes, this implies that homeownership remains much more attainable in Edmonton than in the other major markets," it reads.

The average ratio between the cost of housing in Edmonton and Vancouver is around 30 per cent. Housing is more expensive in Calgary, but that city's ratio relative to Vancouver still favours Calgary at just under 78 per cent. 

About 68,000 people left B.C. last year with some 35,000 moving to Alberta. "Skyrocketing gas, grocery, and housing prices are forcing British Columbians to move out of the province at historic rates," Stone said in his post.  

But B.C. also continues to draw record number of new arrivals from abroad and B.C.'s Minister of Housing Ravi Kahlon last month interpreted this trendline as a sign of strength while under questioning from B.C. United Leader Kevin Falcon.

"(People) see opportunity here," Kahlon said. 

Others, however, are less bullish -- at least for now. TD Economics said in its March forecast that B.C.'s economy "will likely under-perform the nation for a second straight year in 2024."

Cited reasons include less capital spending as three major energy infrastructure projects wind down, a "mixed" picture on timber and energy exports, a slower labour market and high interest rates.

Overall, TD Economics forecasts the provincial economy to grow by 0.5 per cent in 2024 before picking up again in 2025. The corresponding 2024 figure for Alberta is 2.1 per cent, the second-highest in the country. 

Wolf Depner

About the Author: Wolf Depner

I joined the national team with Black Press Media in 2023 from the Peninsula News Review, where I had reported on Vancouver Island's Saanich Peninsula since 2019.
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