NWT employment is back to pre-pandemic levels, figures suggest

Government of the Northwest Territories offices in downtown Yellowknife
Government of the Northwest Territories offices in downtown Yellowknife. Ollie Williams/Cabin Radio

Employment figures released by the territorial government late last week suggest the jobs outlook for NWT residents has effectively returned to its pre-pandemic state.

The participation rate – in simple terms, the number of people either with a job or looking for one – was 69.6 percent in December 2020, the first time that figure has increased year-on-year (from 69.3 percent in December 2019) since Covid-19 reached the NWT in March last year.

Overall, 21,200 people aged 15 or over in the territory reported having a job of some form in December – an increase of 700 on the same time last year and 1,500 more than had reported being in work in June. (Ordinarily, thanks to seasonal work, more people in the NWT have jobs in the summer months than in December.)

The number of people not in the labour force stood at 10,000, a return to the same level as a year ago. That figure had risen to an all-time high of 10,700 in June.



If you’re not in the labour force, it means you both didn’t have a job and weren’t actively trying to get one in the time period surveyed. (The figure also includes people who weren’t, for various reasons, able to work in that period.)

It’s an important measurement because, when that number increases, it suggests more people may be giving up their search for work, either because it is too hard to come by or for some other reason.

The recovery of the labour force was primarily driven by people returning to work, or the search for work, in smaller NWT communities.

In Yellowknife, the number of people not in the labour force has actually risen steadily since June, bucking the overall trend.



As of December, 4,300 Yellowknifers were neither employed nor actively looking for work, compared to 12,300 city residents in the labour force.

That 4,300 figure is up from 3,200 in June and has never in recent history been so large.

But Yellowknife also benefited from a population increase among people aged 15 and over. According to the data, the city ended 2020 with 900 more people in that bracket than had been the case at the end of 2019.

Other communities, by contrast, collectively lost 600 people aged 15 and over during 2020.

Annual data from Statistics Canada published by the NWT Bureau of Statistics suggested that while the overall employment picture has recovered, individual sectors have not.

For example, the data suggests 2020 saw around 400 jobs lost in information, culture and recreation, and a drop of 300 jobs in mining, oil, gas and related industries.

However, 600 more people were employed in public administration – government work of some form – in 2020, the bureau reported, alongside 100 more in construction and 300 more in “other services.” No further detail is provided in the bureau’s overview.

The new Covid-19 Secretariat, the cost of which has been controversial, is an example of government job creation in the territory over the past year.