Graphic depicting the coronavirus knocking over dominoes and people holding them upWhile the overall number of jobs in Canada is back to where it was before the pandemic, there are some changes that have happened below the surface. We can break down the numbers in different ways to get a better idea of what’s actually happening.

Full-time employment for core-age workers (between 25 and 54) has returned to pre-pandemic levels for both men and women. Overall employment is still lower than it was before the pandemic for workers under 25 and for women over 55. Employment also lags for workers without university degrees in large urban centers.

The number of self-employed workers has fallen and is at its lowest level since 2007. Most of the positions lost were the most precarious form of self-employment: those who are not incorporated as a business and do not have paid employees. In some industries, like professional and scientific services, the increase in permanent positions has been much larger than the loss in self-employment, revealing a shift towards more secure employment in those sectors. In other industries, like construction and agriculture, there was no increase in stable employment to offset the losses in self-employment.

In some sectors the overall level of employment masks big shifts within the sector. For example, in transportation and warehousing, employment for couriers and messengers is up 25 per cent compared to February 2020, but employment in air transportation is down 38 per cent. Within retail, employment at non-store retailers is up 16 per cent and big-box retail employment is up eight per cent, but employment is down about the same amount in clothing, sporting goods, book, and music stores. This reveals that the shift to online and big box shopping that we saw during the pandemic may be sticking around.

There are higher numbers of job vacancies in several industries, most notably food service and accommodation, as well as health care – especially for registered nurses and nurses’ aides. Economists would expect to see wage increases to attract workers into these positions. However, for some of these positions, wages have not even kept up with inflation. For example, wages for food and beverage services workers and managers are virtually unchanged compared to 2019. For registered nurses and nurses’ aides, the average wage offered has increased by six per cent - just slightly higher than the rate of inflation over that period, which increased by 4.9 per cent.

There is a great deal of discussion about the “great resignation” in the United States labour market, where workers are voluntarily leaving their jobs without having a new one lined up. Looking at the available data, there is no indication that workers in Canada are doing the same thing, in fact, the proportion of people aged 25-54 who are working or looking for work is at a record high.