Labour Force Survey (LFS) results for May reflect labour market conditions as of the week of May 10 to May 16. By then, some provinces had begun to re-evaluate and gradually ease public health and other restrictions, including allowing some non-essential businesses to re-open. These provinces included British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces with the exception of Nova Scotia. In contrast, the COVID-19 economic shutdown was still largely in place in Alberta, Ontario and Nova Scotia as of mid-May. 

Data from the LFS are based on a sample of more than 50,000 households every month. In May, Statistics Canada continued to protect the health and safety of Canadians by adjusting the processes involved in conducting these interviews. We are deeply grateful for the participation of more than 40,000 households, which ensures that we continue to paint an accurate and current portrait of the Canadian labour market and Canada’s economic performance.

Survey Highlights:

Labour market starts to rebound as restrictions are eased

  • 5.5 million Canadians workers were affected by shutdowns from February to April including 3 million unemployed and increased absences from work of 2.5 million 
  • From March to April, the labour force dropped by 1.7 million (-8.5%)
  • Employment rose by 290,000 (1.8%) in May
  • 34.8% of the potential labour force was fully or partially underutilized in May, compared to 11.9% observed in February
  • Self-employed workers decreased by 79,000 (-2.7%) from February to April but held steady in May
  • Self-employed workers primarily face a significant loss of hours not loss of employment
  • The unemployment rate reached a record high of 13.7% in May (it was 5.6% in February prior to COVID-19)
  • Workers have started to return to workplaces, in May, 8.0 million Canadians who worked at least half of their usual hours worked at a location other than home, up from 7.2 million in April

Employment picture varies widely by sector and province

  • The impact of the COVID-19 economic shutdown was felt first in the services-producing sector however, the impact had spread to goods-producing industries by the last week of March
  • In May, employment rebounded more strongly in in the goods-producing sector (+5.0% or +165,000) than in the services-producing sector (+1.0% or +125,000)
  • In May, total hours worked across all industries grew by 6.3%, compared with an increase of 1.8% in employment. 
  • Total hours worked rose in most industries, including wholesale and retail trade 
  • Quebec accounts for nearly 80% of overall employment gains in May
  • Ontario was the only province where employment continued to fall in May however it did so at a much slower rate

COVID-19 continues to have unequal labour market impacts

  • Employees who earned less than two-thirds of the 2019 annual median wage of $24.04/hour experienced a 38.1% drop in employment, compared with a decline of 12.7% for all other paid employees (not adjusted for seasonality)
  • As COVID-19 restrictions were eased in some parts of the country and overall employment rebounded by 1.8% in May, lower-wage jobs increased by 134,000 (+6.7%)
  • In May, 24.3% of all low-wage workers worked less than 50% of their usual hours, compared with 9.6% for all other paid employees. 
  • Total employment increased more than twice as fast among men (+2.4% or +206,000) than women (+1.1% or +84,000) in May
  • Among parents, women see less employment increase than men and are more likely to lose hours
  • Although employment among youth aged 15 to 24 increased by 30,000 (+1.8%) in May, this only slightly reduced the cumulative employment losses (-843,000; -33.0%) experienced by this age group from February to May
  • The unemployment rate in May was 40.3% for returning students (up from 13.8% in May 2019) and 25.1% for non-student youth (up from 9.8%)
  • Among returning students aged 20 to 24—who were most likely to have completed their current year of studies by May—the unemployment rate surged from 10.8% in May 2019 to a record breaking 42.1% in May 2020
  • There were notable employment gains in May among the off-reserve Aboriginal population (+6.7%), bringing their net employment change from February to May to -10.6%. The comparable figures for the non-Aboriginal population were +3.8% and -12.1%, respectively (unadjusted for seasonality)

Employed Canadians less concerned about job security in May
Over the coming months, it is expected that jurisdictions across Canada will continue to re-evaluate and adjust restrictions on economic activity. Entering this period of change and uncertainty, the extent to which Canadians are concerned about future job loss appears to depend on their experience of the COVID-19 economic shutdown to date. Compared with April, the overall share of employed Canadians who were concerned about job loss fell 5.6 percentage points to 10.8% (not adjusted for seasonality). However, concerns continued to be considerably higher among those who worked less than half of their usual hours during the May LFS reference week (33.1%) than among other employed people (6.3%).

Source: Stats Canada