File photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS The unemployment rate held firm last month at 5.8 per cent as more people hunted for work, Statistics Canada said Friday in its latest labour force survey.

Job market’s strength provides ‘relief’ in disappointing data stretch

OTTAWA — The labour market generated a second straight month of strong job gains in February with the creation of 55,900 net new positions, all of which were full time, Statistics Canada said Friday.

The surge followed an even bigger gain of 66,800 positions in January. The back-to-back results gave Canada its strongest two-month stretch of job creation since the spring of 2012 — and its best two-month start to a year since 1981.

The unemployment rate held firm last month at 5.8 per cent as more people hunted for work, the agency said in its latest labour force survey.

The encouraging numbers provided a bright spot for the economy, which has posted disappointing data in recent months.

In particular, the employment figures arrived a week after another report showed Canada had a period of unexpectedly weak growth for the final three months of 2018.

TD Bank chief economist Beata Caranci said employment has been Canada’s one area of consistency — and she believes it will help put a floor under the economy.

“It was a very good number for Canada, and to be honest, it’s a relief because we sort of needed a win on the Canadian data side,” Caranci said of the February data in an interview.

“We continue to see steady gains in employment and improvements in the participation rates. And so, every time you think that there’s no more workers to hire, there’s more workers that seem to get hired.”

On Wednesday, the Bank of Canada acknowledged it was surprised by the extent of the weakness in last week’s report. The central bank has since cast doubts about future rate hikes and has warned the ongoing slump could last through the first half of 2019 — longer than it had anticipated.

Bank of Canada deputy governor Lynn Patterson said Thursday that she expected economic growth to build fresh momentum in the second half of the year, thanks in large part to the still-strong employment conditions and improving wages.

Caranci said the Bank of Canada will likely view the February numbers ”as a positive sign and a bit of a relief.”

The overall Canadian increase even outpaced job creation in the United States, where figures showed an increase of just 20,000 new positions last month.

The addition last month of 67,400 full-time jobs more than offset a loss of 11,600 part-time positions, the data showed. The agency said the number of more desirable employee positions in the private sector climbed by 31,800 last month, while public sector jobs rose 8,900. The number of self-employed increased by 15,100.

Overall, the increase was led by a gain of 46,200 positions the services sector, largely concentrated in the categories of professional, scientific and technical services, public administration and wholesale and retail trade.

The goods-producing sectors added 9,500 new positions following job gains in natural resources, agriculture and manufacturing.

Year-over-year average hourly wage growth in February was 2.3 per cent, which was up from a reading of two per cent in January.

The Bank of Canada keeps close watch of several wage indicators ahead of policy decisions on its key interest rate. In particular, it focuses on a reading called “wage common,” which incorporates payroll data from several sources, not just from the labour force survey.

“Continued strength in job creation, especially full time, alongside recovering wage growth will help support income and spending growth this year,” Alicia Macdonald, principal economist for The Conference Board of Canada, wrote in a research note.

Over the 12-month stretch leading up to February, total employment rose by 369,100 jobs or two per cent.

More young Canadians, between the ages of 15 and 24 years old, found work last month as youth employment gained 28,600 positions. The increase helped the youth jobless rate move down to 10.8 per cent, from 11.2 per cent in January.

By region, Ontario saw the biggest employment increase last month with the addition of 36,900 jobs.

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