March’s Labor Market Report a Dip into Tepid Water in U.S.; a Cold Shower in Canada

04/05/2013 by Alex Carrick

If the U.S. labor market report in March was a dip into tepid water, Canada’s was a cold shower.

The U.S. change in total employment at least moved in the right direction, +88,000 according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The jobless rate declined 0.1 percentage points from January to reach 7.6%.

America needs to create between 150,000 and 200,000 net new jobs each month to see a more rapid improvement in the unemployment rate.

An early indication that U.S. job creation might slow from a run to a walk was contained in the initial jobless claims number for the latest week ending March 30. After settling into a range of 340,000 to 360,000 for a couple of months, it suddenly shot back up to 388,000. 

In Canada, the net change in employment in March was -55,000 and the unemployment rate increased 0.2 percentage points to 7.2% from February 7.0%.

The gap between the unemployment rates in the two countries was as high as 2.2 percentage points in November 2010, in Canada’s favor (i.e., 7.6% north of the border and 9.8% to the south). It has now shrunk to only 0.4 percentage points.

The U.S. increase in employment was almost all provided by the private services sector (+79,000 jobs). Sub-sector leaders were: professional and business services (+51,000); education and health services (+44,000); and leisure and hospitality (+17,000).

The number of positions in retail trade was “discounted” by 24,000 in the latest month. The bad press being aimed at Walmart may capture the essence of what is happening throughout the industry.

Plenty of anecdotal evidence, quoted by some scribes in the media, suggests Walmart is having trouble keeping its shelves stocked. Customers looking for preferred brands are being frustrated in their searches. 

It’s not due to an excess of demand. Nor is there an inventory issue. There’s plenty of stock in the rear storage bays. Rather, cost-cutting reductions in staff have left remaining workers overtaxed. They’ve been finding it impossible to keep up with the full range of their responsibilities.

The public sector in the U.S. shed another 7,000 jobs in March, but there was considerable variety depending on the level of government.

Washington doled out a large number of pink slips (-14,000 jobs), with the postal service taking a big hit (-12,000).

Employment at the local level of public service stayed about the same (-2,000) and the states actually added staff (+9,000).

In goods production, manufacturers kept their payrolls nearly even (-3,000), while firms in construction took on an additional 18,000 workers.

The ranks of specialty trade contractors rose by 23,000, split almost evenly between those engaged in residential work (+12,500) and the rest of the industry (+10,800).

The number of workers in heavy and civil engineering construction fell by 9,000. Some public-sector works projects have fallen victim to spending cutbacks as politicians have embraced austerity.

The unemployment rate in construction in America now sits at 14.7% versus 17.2% in March of last year.

In Canada, almost all of March’s decline in jobs (-55,000) was in full-time work (-54,000). The biggest hits to employment were shared almost equally by manufacturing (-24,000) and services (-25,000).

Within services, the drops in accommodation and food services (-25,000) and in public administration (-24,000) were partially made up by transportation and warehousing (+12,000), professional, scientific and technical services (+10,000) and educational services (+8,800).

On-site work in construction in Canada fell by 9,300 in 2013’s third month.

On a year-over-year percentage-change basis, the U.S. is leading Canada according to all four major yardsticks.

U.S. total employment in March was +1.4% versus the same month last year, while Canada’s gain was a lower +1.2%. For both nations, a figure ranging from +2.0% to +3.0% indicates a gross domestic product (GDP) growth rate that is close to capacity.

In services, the U.S. current jobs performance is +1.9% year over year, which is fairly respectable. Canada is trailing slightly at +1.7%.

The biggest discrepancy shows up in manufacturing: +0.6% below the dividing line and -2.7% above it.

Canada held an advantage in construction for a long time from 2007 through 2011, but it has now slipped away. The current percentage changes in construction are +2.9% for the U.S. and +1.8% in Canada.

Provincially, the three lowest unemployment rates in Canada are in Saskatchewan (3.9%), Alberta (4.8%) and Manitoba (5.0%).

As for how labor is faring in both Canada and the U.S. compared with other parts of the industrialized world, consider this.

The jobless rate in the Euro zone has just risen to a record 12%.

U.S.: month-to-month total job creation
U.S.: month-to-month total job creation
Over the past 20 years, the U.S. economy has generated, on average, 100,000 new jobs per month or 1.2 million new jobs per year.
Source: Payroll Survey, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (Department of Labor)./Chart: Reed Construction Data - CanaData.
Canada: month-to-month total job creation
Canada: month-to-month total job creation
Over the past 20 years, the Canadian economy has generated, on average, 17,000 new jobs per month or 200,000 new jobs per year.
Data Source: Household Survey, Statistics Canada./Chart: Reed Construction Data - CanaData.
Canada vs. U.S. monthly unemployment rate (per cent)
seasonally adjusted data
Canada vs. U.S. monthly unemployment rate (per cent)
Data sources (seasonally adjusted): Statistics Canada and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics/Chart: Reed Construction Data - CanaData.
Change in total employment - Canada vs. U.S.
Change in total employment - Canada vs. U.S.
"Year over year" is the monthly figure versus the same month of the previous year.
Data sources (seasonally adjusted): Statistics Canada and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics/Chart: Reed Construction Data - CanaData.
Change in service sector employment - Canada vs. U.S.
Change in service sector employment - Canada vs. U.S.
"Year over year" is the monthly figure versus the same month of the previous year.
Data Source: Household Survey, Statistics Canada./Chart: Reed Construction Data - CanaData.
Change in construction employment - Canada vs. U.S.
Change in construction employment - Canada vs. U.S.
"Year over year" is the monthly figure versus the same month of the previous year.
Data sources (seasonally adjusted): Statistics Canada and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics/Chart: Reed Construction Data - CanaData.
Change in manufacturing employment - Canada vs. U.S.
Change in manufacturing employment - Canada vs. U.S.
"Year over year" is the monthly figure versus the same month of the previous year.
Data sources (seasonally adjusted): Statistics Canada and U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics/Chart: Reed Construction Data - CanaData.