Men walk the in underground PATH at lunch hour where retailers are open during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto last October. New data from Statistics Canada published today showed the retail sectors in Ontario and Quebec were hit especially hard by job losses in Canada that totalled 213,000 in January. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

Job losses in January are most in Canada since the pandemic hit in the spring

As the vaccine rollout lags and COVID-19’s lethal variants–increasingly–make their presence felt, Canada’s economy has taken a hit for the second month in a row.

It was a big one.

Statistics Canada reported today the economy lost 213,000 jobs in January–the biggest loss since last April when some two million jobs were disappeared as the COVID-19 pandemic widened

As well, the data showed the unemployment rate rose 0.6 percentage points to 9.4 per cent–the highest its been since August.

Economists had warned that the heavy restrictions and business closures–the result of lockdowns in many places across the country–would likely mean job losses.

On Thursday, the financial data firm Refinitiv said the average economist estimate was for a loss of 47,500 jobs in January and an unemployment rate of 8.9 per cent.

Not even close.

A worker displays a ‘Welcome Back!’ sign in the window of a store on Queen Street in Toronto in May as the Canadian economy began a recovery that lasted until December and tumbled further in January. (Bloomberg/Cole Burston)

Leah Nord, the Senior Director of Workforce Strategies and Inclusive Growth at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, called the numbers “unsurprisingly and unfortunately bleak.”

“We simply cannot afford to be in a holding pattern until vaccines arrive. We need new strategies to manage the pandemic [because] the economic costs may very well damage Canada’s economy and structurally alter our labour market in ways that may not easily be repaired,” Nord told the CBC’s Pete Evans.

Statistics Canada said the losses were almost entirely concentrated in Ontario and Quebec–and were mainly in the retail sector due to government lockdowns. 

Bank of Montreal economist Doug Porter was more upbeat than the Chamber of Commerce’s Nord, telling Evans that he was taking comfort in the fact that the job cuts were focused so much on one sector, and so much on just two provinces.

A woman checks out a jobs advertisement sign during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on April 29, 2020. That month, nearly two million Canadians lost their jobs as the first wave of the pandemic struck Canada. (CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette)

 “The fact that the job losses were so heavily focused on the restricted sectors in the two big provinces also means that the jobs could return quickly as restrictions ease,” Porter said.

The losses far outstripped the figures from last month when 66,000 positions disappeared, ending a bounce-back that began last May.

The decline leaves Canada with 858,300 fewer jobs–4.5 per cent–than last February, just before the first wave of the pandemic hit.

Another 529,000 people have managed to hold on to their job but are working less than they would normally because of the pandemic.

With files from CBC News (Pete Evans), The Canadian Press

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