Wages rise as job numbers see slight decline

OTTAWA — Wage growth in April reached its highest level in nearly six years as the economy posted a slight net loss of 1,100 jobs and an unemployment rate that held steady at 5.8 per cent.

Statistics Canada released a new jobs report Friday that showed average hourly wages last month were 3.6 per cent higher than they were a year earlier. It was the monthly reading’s largest annual increase since October 2012.

The indicator, which is closely monitored by the Bank of Canada ahead of its interest-rate decisions, has been creeping upwards. It registered a year-over-year increase of 3.3 per cent in March and 3.1 per cent the month before.

The strengthening numbers for wage growth points to a tightening labour market, which could push inflation higher and nudge the central bank closer to raising its trend-setting rate.

With the economy running close to capacity, the central bank is on a rate-hiking trajectory. The question, however, is around the timing of the next increase.

The bank’s next policy decision is scheduled for May 30, although many analysts predict governor Stephen Poloz will wait until the bank’s July meeting before raising the rate. Another rate increase would be Poloz’s fourth since last July.

RBC senior economist Nathan Janzen said Friday that employment data has been good for while, so there hasn’t been much space for the labour market to see further progress. One area, however, that still has room for improvement is wage growth, he said.

“On the wage side, I think there’s less and less reason to think that there’s much slack left in labour markets,” Janzen said in an interview.

He noted the wage growth numbers received a boost from Ontario’s minimum wage increase in January. But he added that even when the province is excluded from the calculation, wage growth still rose to 3.1 per cent last month, up from 2.9 per cent over the first three months of 2018.

Aubrey Basdeo, head of fixed income for BlackRock Canada, said while the wage numbers are a “healthy sign” he doesn’t think Friday’s report will change anything for the Bank of Canada as it mulls its next rate increase.

Last month, the Bank of Canada said despite recent improvements in wage growth, the indicator remained below what would be expected.

Looking at the headline numbers in Friday’s Statistics Canada survey, the overall decline in jobs last month was so small the federal agency did not consider it statistically significant.

The unemployment rate stayed at its record low of 5.8 per cent for a third-straight month. It matched the reading’s lowest mark since the agency started measuring the indicator in 1976.

The participation rate, however, edged down in April to 65.4 per cent, from 65.5 per cent in March, as fewer people looked for work.

The agency said the economy produced 28,800 full-time jobs last month and shed 30,000 part-time positions. The country also saw a decrease of 13,600 positions in the public sector, while the number of private-sector jobs rose by 28,000.

Goods-producing industries shed 15,900 positions, mostly in construction. Services sectors, meanwhile, created 14,800 jobs following big increases in professional, scientific and technical services, as well as in accommodation and food services.

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