NB workforce in uncharted territory
Normally I don’t pay too much attention to the monthly Labour Force Survey from Statistics Canada. As I tell younger folks studying this data there can be fairly significant swings month to month even with the seasonally adjusted data - what we want to look for is trends - the direction of travel and not just one monthly data point.
The direction of travel is one-way - and clear. The size of the workforce hit another record in April (399,700), employment hit another record (371,700) and the unemployment rate in April was the lowest on record for Aprils since the current LFS started in 1976. FYI, in July 2017 the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.8% - the only time in the 550+ months of recorded data that it was lower than April 2022.
Yes, the participation rate (the share of the adult population ‘participating’ in the labour market is trending downward. At 60.6% it is below the peak of 64%ish seen in 2008-2009 but I’m not convinced we have a lot of room to move there. Unless you get a lot more farmers in the workforce and reduce our seasonal workforce, I am not sure we will see 64% participation in the future.
If you look at the immigrant participation in the workforce, which is seasonally unadjusted and not comparable to the data above, New Brunswick had 9,000 more immigrants in the workforce in April 2022 compared to April 2019 (before the pandemic). The number born in Canada and participating in the workforce dropped by a similar amount.
A low unemployment rate, retiring boomers - makes this a good time to be young and looking for work. It also requires us to be importing talent.
A lot of economists, think tanks and government bureaucrats have said -and told me directly - that New Brunswick would not be able to grow its workforce. After nearly a decade of stagnation and outright declines, a consensus was brewing in the mid 2010s that New Brunswick was in some kind of structural workforce decline and facing long term weak GDP growth.
And, yet, here we are. A record level of employment. Up 20,500 between April 2015 and April 2022.
Oh, and speaking of GDP growth, Statistics Canada recently released the 2021 data (on an industry basis) and the growth mostly blew through forecasts. But the long term view is what matters. Real GDP growth since 2016 has been 10 times faster since the ‘lost decade’. For you budding economists who are suspicious of dollar terms, it is true that in percentage changes we aren’t back to where we should be (1.3% per year since 2016 compared to 0.2% in the lost decade using this source) but we are heading in the right direction.
Let’s make all the pessimists change their view of New Brunswick.