Statistics Canada says B.C. gained 15,300 employed people in August, creating a slight drop in the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate from 11.1 per cent to 10.7.
While that’s the third month of improvement in a row, it’s less than June and July and making further gains won’t be easy, says Ken Peacock, chief economist for the Business Council of B.C. And the end of the federal government’s Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is going to have an enormous impact.
“If this were normal times, a 15,000 upward movement would be quite good, even kind of strong,” Peacock said in an interview with Black Press Media Sept. 4. “But in this current context, it’s such a dramatic pull-back from the previous couple of months. It speaks to exactly what we’ve been concerned about, that the low-hanging fruit in terms of rehiring has been accomplished, and we’re going to see sluggish job growth from here on out.”
Peacock notes that 1.15 million people in B.C. applied for CERB since it was offered in spring, with few barriers to receiving $2,000 per month to offset lost income during the pandemic.
“That’s 45 per cent of the pre-COVID workforce, so nearly half of all employed people in B.C. at some point have claimed the CERB,” he said. “This is going to force people back to work, but the question is are the jobs going to be there for them.”
Statistics Canada’s breakdown by city shows similar gains as the national job picture. Victoria’s unemployment rate went from 11.1 per cent to 10.3, Kelowna’s fell to nine per cent from 10 and Abbotsford-Mission barely moved from 8.3 per cent to 8.2.
CERB was originally to run out at the end of August, but Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a four-week extension on Aug. 20, with a promise of a transition to a revised program.
The federal government is making Employment Insurance more accessible and available for self-employed people, but it’s nowhere near a replacement for the CERB, Peacock said. And B.C.’s $1.5 billion business relief fund may sound like a lot but it is modest compared to the federal wage support and other pandemic programs that are also due to wind down.