A dramatic increase in jobs in the region’s high-tech field helped offset a steep drop in the number of federal government employees and workers in other key local sectors, Statistics Canada said Friday.
There were 143,200 people working in the sector that includes federal civil servants – public administration – in April. That’s down significantly from the 153,600 employees in the same sector a year earlier.
However, the number of workers in the field measuring the high-tech sector – information and communication technology – jumped from 47,700 a year ago to 68,300 in April, a whopping 43 per cent increase.
The overall unemployment rate in Ottawa-Gatineau increased month-over-month, rising to 6.8 per cent from 6.6 per cent in March. The overall rate is up sharply from a year earlier, when it measured 6.2 per cent.
The total number of people working in the region increased slightly year-over-year, from 695,100 in April 2013 to 695,600 this year. But the overall employment rate dropped slightly due to an increase in the overall size of the labour force.
Other sectors that saw a dropoff included accounting and financial services (to 31,100 from 38,900 a year earlier), trade (to 78,200 from 85,800), construction (to 26,700 from 33,600), educational services (to 55,000 from 59,100) and finance, insurance, real estate and leasing (to 34,000 from 36,600).
On the other hand, there was a big jump in the number of people employed in health care and social assistance (80,400 to 92,200) and slight increases in manufacturing (24,800 to 25,900) and professional, scientific and technical services (79,400 to 81,500).
The 15-to-24 and 25-to-54 age categories showed little change in overall employment year-over-year, while the 55-and-over group decreased slightly from 108,500 to 107,400.
The month-over-month unemployment rate jumped from 6.5 per cent in March to 6.9 per cent last month in Ottawa, while the rate in Gatineau held steady at 6.7 per cent.
Nationally, the economy lost 28,900 jobs last month against expectations of a gain of about 12,000. It was also a huge turnaround from the previous month when the economy cranked out 43,000 jobs, which means 14,000 jobs were added over the two-month period.
The last time the Canadian economy saw such a drop was December 2013, when it lost 44,000 jobs.
“There’s no question this was a bit of a disappointment,” said Douglas Porter, chief economist with the Bank of Montreal. “It continues a trend we've seen over the last six months of down then up, and up then down. So we're seeing a see-saw action in Canadian employment.”
Canada’s unemployment rate held steady at 6.9 per cent last month. The participation rate was a bit lower than expected, coming in at 66.1 per cent versus the 66.3 per cent rate that economists had forecast.
The loonie was sharply lower Friday following the jobs report, falling 0.63 of a cent to 91.77 cents US. The Canadian dollar had charged ahead almost 2/3 of a US cent Thursday to a four-month high in the wake of a positive reading on housing starts.
Mr. Porter said that beyond the monthly volatility, the take-home message is that Canadian job growth is cooling.
“Over the past year, it's just been strong enough to slightly chip away at the unemployment rate,” he said. “But we're really not seeing a big improvement on that front.”
The report showed 30,900 full-time jobs were lost in April, compared with the addition of 2,000 positions in part-time employment.
The Statistics Canada data said the employment numbers dropped in seven of the 10 provinces, including Quebec, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador and Prince Edward Island. Quebec saw the biggest plunge, losing 32,000 jobs.
Meanwhile, Ontario created 17,600 jobs in April, the most of any province.
The report found there were 27,100 fewer jobs held by young Canadians aged 15-24, while the youth unemployment rate stayed put at 13.4 per cent.
The biggest April loss struck the accommodation and food services industry, where 32,200 fewer people found work.
Employment in finance, insurance, real estate and leasing dropped by 19,400, while jobs were created for the second consecutive month in business, building and other support services, which saw an increase of 26,100.
The survey found that the number of employees plunged in April to a loss of 46,000 jobs, a figure that was offset in part by the addition of 17,200 self-employed positions.
Derek Burleton, deputy chief economist for TD Economics, said in a statement that “the employment pendulum continues to swing violently. The extent of the weakness in job creation in recent months has been surprising given the reasonably positive readings flowing from employer surveys and signs of continued moderate growth in the economy.”'
Still, economists remain optimistic for 2014 and Mr. Burleton said he's confident Canada's labour market will improve later this year with a boost from stronger economic growth.
Others found positives within the data for certain areas of the job market.
Tom Turpin of the Randstad Canada recruiting company said new construction projects across the country have hiked the need for skilled trades, industrial support and management by 30 per cent compared with 2013.
“Considering the job loss, there is still a silver lining within certain industry sectors that are experiencing a spike in demand,” he said.
Several experts also warned that April's numbers should be viewed with caution, considering that Good Friday fell on the survey week.
CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld said StatsCan's seasonal adjustments do not fully control for the shifting time of that holiday, when fewer hours are worked and Canadians often take more time off.
“The last time Good Friday fell in the survey week for April was in 2003,” Mr. Shenfeld said in a statement. “In that case, not only did hours worked take a nose dive, but employment dropped (13,000) vs. an average gain of nearly (30,000) in the six months leading up to that month.”
– With files from Canadian Press