Job losses rival early ’80s recession

OTTAWA — Jobs are disappearing in Canada at a rate not seen since the deep recession of the early 1980s, new figures show.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper (centre)

OTTAWA — Jobs are disappearing in Canada at a rate not seen since the deep recession of the early 1980s, new figures show.

Statistics Canada reported Thursday that Canada lost another 61,300 jobs in March, taking the unemployment rate up three-tenths of a point to eight per cent for the first time in seven years.

Since the peak in October, employment has fallen each month for a total of 357,000 jobs lost, representing 2.1 per cent of the workforce. That’s a pace of contraction greater than at any time during the 1991 recession and equalling that of the more severe 1982 slump.

In some ways, today’s job losses are even worse, CIBC chief economist Avery Shenfeld explained.

Compared to the early stages of the previous two recessions, the first five-month decline is roughly about three times the pace of deterioration.

“Obviously this is not good news,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said from Edmonton.

“On the other hand, this is the level of unemployment we were expecting in the budget. That’s why we’ve come forward with the kind of programs and dollars we have to deal with this problem,” he added, referring to the budget’s $40-billion over two years stimulus.

The only good news, said economist Douglas Porter of BMO Capital Markets, is that last month’s losses were not as “horrid” as in January and February, when 129,000 and 83,000 jobs were lost respectively.

“In many ways this report was absolutely a textbook case of what you see in the middle of a recession,” Porter said.

“We saw many deep declines in manufacturing, we saw deep declines in construction and we saw back-up in the unemployment rate.”

Harper used a community college workshop to announce a new grant program that will pay cash to Canadians who take apprenticeship programs.

The program, first announced in the last federal budget, offers apprentices up to $4,000 by the time they graduate, a significant increase from past grant programs.

“Demand for trades people, for skilled workers, still remains very strong in this country, notwithstanding the recession,” Harper told a news conference Thursday.

“Business knows that they are still going to need a lot of skilled apprentices and trades people and that’s in the very near future.”

Encouraging more apprenticeships will help Canadians weather the global recession because it improves both job prospects and earning potential, he said.

An estimated 20,000 people could benefit from the grant program, according to a government news release.

Apprentices can start applying for the grants in July, but the program is retroactive to

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