04 December 2009

Long term work force trends hard to see…yet

Friday’s release of job statistics for November has prompted some media stories focusing on the very minor change in employment levels across the country.

Closer to home, innovation minister Shawn Skinner emphasised the longer term trends in his comments.

That’s pretty much what you need to do if you want to see what is really happening.  The major problem is that at this juncture it is very hard to see what the trends are, at least within the province.

Look at it this way:  in November 2008, the number of people working full-time or part-time in the province was about 218,000. The figures used here are seasonally adjusted, by the way so that we can get an accurate comparison.

A year later, the number is 215,300.  That’s up about 3,000 from September and October.  Before you get excited that the trend might be upward, just remember that there were fewer people in the province working in November 2009 than there were in either March or August and November’s employment is only a couple of hundred ahead of July.

Now look at it another way:  the average size of the work force in the period from April to November (i.e. the current fiscal year) has been about 213, 000.   Scan back through the monthly numbers from Statistics Canada (linked above) and you can see the monthly numbers go up and down slightly around that steady number.

The trending really isn’t clearly up or down.

Then there’s the comparison across the country.  Year over year, every province saw a drop in employment except for Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward island.  They weren’t anything to write home about, of course, with increases of 0.3% in both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick.

At –1.4%,  Newfoundland and Labrador wasn’t the worst, but it is on par with Ontario, Alberta, Manitoba and British Columbia, all of which suffered year over years drops in employment ranging between –1.1% and –1.8%.

That’s a far cry from the assurances last year being tossed out by some people that the province would escape the ravages of the recession because of some magical bubble.  The province has been hit proportionately in some respects and certainly on par with the impacts others have felt in some other respects.

Oil royalties are below even the pessimistic projections of the current budget forecast.    Overall, royalties are down 57% from last year.  Oil production is down as well, on the order of almost 30%.

The fishery has had a rough year.  Forestry is way down with the closure of the oldest paper mill in the province and mining is also suffering the effects of the recession. Vale Inco is still closed at Voisey’s Bay due to a labour dispute.

Things will turn around.  They haven’t yet, but they will. They always do.

No one can say, though, how long it will take for things to turn around.  it may be as little as a year away;  it may take longer.

But if you look at the employment trends, well it’s really pretty hard to say which way things are going. 

That’s why, when it comes to the province’s mid-year financial update and planning for next year, a little prudence might be in order for a change.