Article By: Gord Howard
St. Catharines Standard
Read original at: https://www.stcatharinesstandard.ca/business/2020/08/07/niagara-economy-continues-slow-climb-out-of-deep-hole-dug-by-covid-19.html
Niagara’s economy didn’t get the dramatic upturn it craves, but there were positive signs in a monthly labour market survey released Friday.
The region’s unemployment rate dipped slightly and nearly 7,000 residents who were unemployed in June found work last month, according to the study released by Statistics Canada.
Niagara still has a long way to go, though, to climb out of the massive economic hole it has been in since March due to the COVID-19 shutdown.
“We saw some improvement, all of the trends are going in the right direction,” said Adam Durrant, operations and research manager for the Niagara Workforce Planning Board.
“We’re seeing signs of recovery, but we’re far from being recovered right now.”
For perspective: in July 2019 Niagara’s unemployment rate was 5.4 per cent. Last month, it was 12.3 per cent. In July 2019, there were 199,200 residents with jobs; last month, there were only 176,700.
During March, April and May when the local economy was largely shut down due to COVID, more than 31,000 Niagara residents lost employment.
It wasn’t until June that the number of people with jobs began to rise again.
Friday’s StatsCan report, compiled from data collected the week of July 12-18 just as Niagara was preparing to shift into Stage 3 economic reopening, showed the region’s unemployment rate at 12.3 per cent, down from 12.8 per cent in June.
Any other year, that would be considered a dramatic improvement.
“Recovery is an ongoing process. That’s where we are right now,” said Durrant. “There’s reason to be hopeful and cautiously optimistic that August will continue that trend.”
Nationally, the unemployment rate dropped by 1.4 per cent to 10.9 per cent.
Niagara’s rate was in line with its regional neighbours — while Hamilton’s unemployment rate was 11.3 per cent, Kitchener’s was 12.9 per cent and Toronto’s 14.7 per cent.
In Niagara, unemployment among young adults has been bad and actually got slightly worse last month, rising to 31.3 per cent.
By comparison, in July 2019 it was 11.9 per cent.
“That’s very challenging,” said Durrant. “We’re effectively talking about almost 10,000 people between the ages of 15 and 24 who were looking for employment in June but couldn’t find it.”
Often people in that age group are saving for post-secondary education. This year, without jobs they might have to defer studies or borrow to pay tuition.
“So this is going to have consequences for that age group in a very serious way,” Durrant said.
“There is an effort being made by young people to find work. They’re just not being successful.”
Of the roughly 6,900 people who did return to employment in July, 6,200 got full-time jobs.
Nearly three-quarters of the jobs gained were in construction and manufacturing, traditionally among the higher-paying occupations.
While that is “a very positive indicator,” Durrant said “the benefits of our employment gains in July are not at all evenly distributed.”
Durrant said, “what’s challenging is when we break it down along gender lines, and all of the people who gained employment in July versus June, for every one woman who found employment in Niagara there were 4.3 men who found employment.”
Because most construction and manufacturing jobs are held by men, Niagara’s trend runs counter to that of the rest of the province.
Ontario-wide, for every man who found employment there were 3.9 women who were hired.
Niagara’s wholesale/retail sector — where more women are employed — saw only a slight gain in employment in July, by about 200 people.
In July there were about 25,100 people employed in that field compared to 31,800 in July 2019.
“It’s probably safe to say that sector is steady, but it’s another that for months was in freefall,” said Durrant.
“We’re seeing that make a slight upturn.”
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