Statistics Canada released the December Labour Force Survey this morning, reporting employment gains of 54,700 last month–double market expectations. The unemployment rate fell to 5.9% from the 6.0% rate posted in November and is only 0.2 percentage points above the 5.7% rate posted in February 2020 before the pandemic began.
More people were working full-time in December, particularly core-aged men aged 25 to 54. Most of the employment growth was in Ontario. Nationally, gains were driven by the construction and educational services industries.After having regained its pre-COVID level for the first time in November, total hours worked were little changed in December.
Full-time employment rose by 123,000 (+0.8%) in December, with most of the increase occurring among men of core working age (+95,000; +1.6%). In comparison, the number of people working part-time declined (-68,000; -1.9%). Since June, full-time employment has trended up and was 248,000 (+1.6%) higher than its pre-pandemic February 2020 level in December. In contrast, part-time employment has been mostly flat since June and remained at virtually the same level as in February 2020.
Average hourly wages increased 2.7% (+$0.80) on a year-over-year basis in December, similar to the average pace of wage growth observed from 2017 to 2019 (+2.6%). However, inflation accelerated considerably in 2021.The number of Canadians unemployed for 27 weeks or more fell for the second consecutive month (-25,000; -8.0%) and stood at 293,000 in December. While long-term unemployment fell in each of the previous two months, it accounted for a substantially higher share of total unemployment in December (24.1%) than in February 2020 (15.6%), before the onset of the pandemic.
The labour underutilization rate—the proportion of people in the potential labour force who are unemployed; want a job but have not looked for one; or are employed but working less than half of their usual hours—fell 0.4 percentage points to 12.0% in December, the lowest rate observed since the onset of the pandemic. While this remained 0.6 percentage points above the record low of 11.4% immediately before the pandemic in February 2020, it is within the range of monthly rates observed through 2018 and 2019, ranging from 11.5% to 12.2%.
In December, the decline in the labour underutilization rate was driven by a decrease in the number of people working less than half of their usual hours. The share of the population aged 15 years and older participating in the labour market held steady at 65.3% in December, virtually the same as before the pandemic.
Hence, there is little doubt that Canada is very close to full employment. This is what the Bank of Canada has been looking towards in making its first post-pandemic rate-hike decision.
The December Labour Force Survey was conducted before the recent Omicron restrictions. I believe it is unlikely that the Bank of Canada’s Governing Council will hike rates at its next meeting on January 26. Though some market participants are betting on a January lift-off, The Bank’s forward guidance remains no sooner than Q2 action, and there is little reason, at this uncertain time, for them to accelerate that decision. Moreover, if they want to prove their inflation-fighting credibility, they could hike at the following meeting on March 2. Odds are the likelihood of an April 13 lift-off.