Employment in the Central Okanagan has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic — with the region losing about 2,000 jobs between February and March of this year.
Recently released data from Statistics Canada shows a decrease from nearly 104,000 employed workers in Kelowna in February to just under 102,000 in March.
The data shows job losses across the country, including an increase in the unemployment rate for the Kelowna census metropolitan area (CMA), which now sits at 5.9 per cent. The Kelowna CMA includes Peachland, West Kelowna, Kelowna and Lake Country.
Unemployment rates in the area rose 0.6 percentage points since last month and nearly two points since March of last year when the rate sat at 4 per cent.
This month’s numbers mark the highest unemployment rate in Kelowna since January of 2018 when the rate was 6.4 per cent.
The Thompson-Okanagan region as a whole is now sitting at a 7.2 per cent unemployment rate.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a serious impact on people and economies around the world. British Columbia is no exception, which is evident in the number of lost jobs in this month’s labour force survey,” said B.C.’s finance minister Carole James on April 9.
“We know today’s numbers reflect the initial impacts of the pandemic, and a fuller picture will become clear in next month’s report. This is a stressful time for all British Columbians, but I want people and businesses to know our government is doing everything it can to support them – and together we will get through this.”
Across B.C., 132,000 jobs were lost in B.C. in March, bringing unemployment to 7.2 per cent provincially.
“And we know in fact this isn’t the entire picture,” James said. “Of note in the statistics that came out today, is that there are thousands of other British Columbians who are out of work and would normally be seeking work right now, but they’re hampered in their efforts for various reasons related to the pandemic. Their sector has been shut down. Those people are in addition to the kinds of numbers you’re seeing today.”
B.C., Ontario, Quebec and Alberta have been the hardest hit provinces through the pandemic. Ontario shed 403,000 jobs, Quebec lost 264,000 and Alberta lost 117,000 compared to just one month earlier.
Nationally, over 1 million jobs were lost — marking the worst recorded single month change ever — lifting unemployment to 7.8 per cent.
The number of people considered unemployed rose by 413,000 between February and March, almost all of it fuelled by temporary layoffs, meaning workers expected their jobs back in six months.
Those who didn’t work any hours during the week of the labour force survey increased by 1.3 million, the national statistics office says, while the number of people who worked less than half of their usual hours increased by 800,000.
Statistics Canada said those changes in hours can all be attributed to COVID-19, which has led governments to order businesses to close and workers to stay at home to slow the spread of the pandemic.
It also warned that the number of people absent from work for a full week who weren’t paid — which hit a seasonally adjusted rate of 55.8 per cent — ‘may be an indication of future job losses’.
All told, Statistics Canada says some 3.1 million Canadians either lost their jobs or had their hours slashed last month due to COVID-19.
“It is expected that the sudden employment decline observed in March will have a significant effect on the performance of the Canadian economy over the coming months,” the agency said in its report.
The jobs report also shows most of the losses were in the private sector, with the greatest employment declines observed for youth aged 15 to 24. The youth unemployment rate in March was 16.8 per cent, the highest it has been since June 1997.
-With files from the Canadian Press