Economy

NWT employment rate dips to lowest this century so far


The Northwest Territories had an employment rate of 63.5 percent in February – a fractional improvement on January but completing the lowest three-month period seen so far this century.

From December until February, the NWT’s employment rate remained below 64 percent. It’s the first three-month span below that marker since at least 2000.

Only the winter of 2010, in which the employment rate was marginally higher, comes close.

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The employment rate is the percentage of people in the territory aged 15 and over who have any kind of job.

In 2006 and 2007, immediately preceding the 2008 recession, the territory’s employment rate reached highs of more than 75 percent. However, the rate has now been below 70 percent since September 2016.

An NWT Bureau of Statistics chart shows the territory's monthly employment rate from 2001 to 2020

An NWT Bureau of Statistics chart shows the territory’s monthly employment rate from 2001 to 2020.

February’s figure did at least represent a small uptick from January’s record low of the century to date, 63.2 percent.

Publishing the latest data on Friday, the NWT Bureau of Statistics noted this meant the territory joined Nunavut and Manitoba as the only parts of Canada to post any month-to-month increase in February.

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However, the NWT’s employment rate remained down year-on-year from 65.1 percent in February 2019.

Examining that year-on-year decrease, the territory’s statisticians said: “Youth aged 15 to 24 years had the biggest loss, dropping 8.8 percentage points to 34.6 percent.

“The employment rate was unchanged for those living outside of Yellowknife, and dropped slightly for Indigenous persons.”

Losses in the private sector

The statistics bureau said 400 part-time positions were lost year-on-year. (All figures in labour force reports are rounded to the nearest hundred.)

While self-employment rose by 500 people year-on-year and there was a “slight increase” in public-sector employment, statistics showed a drop of 1,200 jobs in the NWT’s private sector between February 2019 and February 2020.

The goods industry shed 200 jobs, while the service industry lost 400.

More: NWT Bureau of Statistics labour force data in full

Employment rate is just one of several ways to measure how the territory’s labour force is performing.

The raw number of people employed – which doesn’t take population fluctuation into account – also bottomed out in January at its lowest number in a decade, 20,400 people.

That rose slightly to 20,500 people in February.

The unemployment rate – which measures how many people in the labour force didn’t have a job – rose to 8.9 percent in February, its highest since January 2016.

Why don’t the employment and unemployment rates add up to 100 percent?
They measure slightly different things.

The employment rate measures the percentage of people aged 15 or over with jobs out of the entire NWT population of the same age – regardless of whether those people are actually able to work and actively looking for work.

The unemployment rate only measures the percentage of people who don’t have jobs out of the labour force – the list of residents who can work and either have jobs or are trying to find one.

Dips in the employment and unemployment rates tend to be seasonal. Ordinarily, slightly more people in the NWT report finding jobs during the summer months.

The NWT gets its labour force data by surveying around 400 people aged 15 and older each month.

The results are reported based on three-month moving averages, which means February’s data actually represents information from surveys conducted in December, January, and February – a technique also used for relatively small sample sizes elsewhere in Canada.

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