London jobless rate drops, bucking provincial, national trends

Bucking national and Ontario employment trends, the London-St. Thomas area ended the summer with its lowest jobless rate in 14 years and one that’s flirting with its lowest rate ever.

Figures released by Statistics Canada show the number of people working in the area market last month rose by 600 from July to August, while the number of people in the labour force — those who are working or looking for jobs — fell by 100 in the region, which also includes Strathroy and portions of Elgin and Middlesex counties.

The area unemployment rate fell to 5.2 per cent from 5.4 per cent in July.

The London-St. Thomas area’s record low for unemployment was 4.8 per cent, reached in August 2004.

“The numbers are encouraging over the last several months . . . and many Londoners are prospering,” King’s University College professor Don Kerr said in an email.

But there’s more to London’s labour landscape than the numbers show, he warned. Employment growth in the London area hasn’t kept up with population growth. The result is a significant share of prime working-age adults who aren’t working.

“We shouldn’t ignore that, when people talk of labour shortages. There are people who have fallen out of the labour force,” Kerr said. “We have a long way to go still.”

Kerr said the latest positive job numbers in the London area were anticipated and welcome news.

The picture provincewide was less so.

Ontario lost 80,100 jobs last month after gaining 60,600 in July — with both data points almost entirely driven by swings in part-time work. Ontario’s unemployment rate rose to 5.7 per cent from 5.4 per cent in July.

Nationally, the rate also ticked up slightly last month to six per cent from 5.8 per cent, with a net loss of 51,600 jobs.

However, August also featured a notable bright spot: full-time jobs rose by 40,400 nationally.

“A little bit of a mixed bag, but definitely not quite as bad as the headline would suggest,” TD senior economist Brian DePratto said of the August national jobs report.

“Another messy one, to be frank . . . It’s always a noisy report (because of conflicting data), but it seems like the last few months have been particularly noisy.”

A closer look at the August data revealed even more turbulence in the month-to-month numbers.

DePratto said it’s difficult to determine the cause of July’s “odd, significant spike” in Canada’s most-populous province.

Some commentary, he noted, had connected the jump to a summertime hiring boost in the university sector that many expected would recede in the subsequent months.

But DePratto said the August drop didn’t reflect any significant reversals from earlier increases because the losses were concentrated in areas such as construction and professional, scientific and technical services.

“Unfortunately, by and large, it looks like statistical noise,” he said.

Royce Mendes, director and senior economist for CIBC Capital Markets, summed up the jobs report in a research note to clients as “now you see them, now you don’t.”

“While you can’t put too much faith in any one reading from the (labour force survey), there’s certainly nothing in the report to suggest that the economy is racing ahead.” Mendes wrote.

— with files by the Canadian Press

Statistics Canada Unemployment Rate

August 2018 (vs. July)

London-St. Thomas: 5.2% (5.4%)

Canada: 6.0% (5.8%)

Ontario: 5.7% (5.4%)

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