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Study analyzes employment changes across industries during the downturn and recovery

Ottawa - After the most recent economic downturn in Canada began in October 2008, employment declined by 431,000 over nine months and took 18 months to recover, Statistics Canada reports. However, not all industries followed a similar path of...


Ottawa – After the most recent economic downturn in Canada began in October 2008, employment declined by 431,000 over nine months and took 18 months to recover, Statistics Canada reports. However, not all industries followed a similar path of decline and recovery.

At the onset of the recent downturn, more than two-thirds (68%) of workers were employed in industries that either recouped their losses or even expanded during the subsequent recovery.

For instance, health care and social assistance expanded during both the downturn and the recovery, increasing by more than 150,000 between October 2008 and January 2011.

As well, employment in professional, scientific and technical services declined by 3,400 during the downturn, but gained more than 100,000 during the recovery.

In contrast, 22% of workers were in industries that either constantly declined over the period, like agriculture, or did not recover from their downturn losses, like manufacturing and natural resources.

The rest (11%) were in industries that, in fact, grew during the downturn and declined during the recovery. “Other services,” which includes many small business owners, fell into this category. In all, the number of self-employed people rose by 67,000 during the downturn and fell by 56,000 during the recovery.

More workers in industries that did not recover in the 1990s

During the previous downturn, which began in April 1990, employment declined by 448,000 over a period of 28 months and took 25 months to recover.

In April 1990, contrary to the most recent downturn, fewer workers (46%) were in industries that either fully recovered from their losses or expanded during the recovery. This included health care and social assistance; professional, scientific, technical services; and business, building and other support services.

At the same time, 47% of all workers were in industries that either declined both during the downturn and the recovery, or did not fully recover. The vast majority of them were employed in trade, manufacturing and construction industries.

The downturn of the 1980s was more severe and prolonged than the most recent downturn. Starting in June 1981, employment declined by 612,000 over a period of 17 months and took 23 months to recover.

During the 1980s, 35% of workers were employed in industries that either declined during the entire period or did not fully recover.

Post-recovery growth concentrated within a few industries

Since the end of the recent recovery period, between January 2011 and February 2013, employment increased by 463,000.

Nearly three-quarters of employment gains were concentrated in four industries: accommodation and food services (+112,000), health care and social assistance (+93,000), educational services (+65,000) and construction (+64,000).

In contrast, employment declined in manufacturing industries (-52,000) and utilities (-12,000).

As a result, the share of the workforce employed in manufacturing industries declined from 11.4% in October 2008 to 9.8% in February 2013.

Conversely, the share of workers employed in health care industries rose, from 11.2% to 12.2% over the same period. The share of professional, scientific and technical services also increased, from 6.9% to 7.5%.

Changes in the skill profile of occupations

Employment changes across industries also changed the skill profile of Canadian occupations.

Between January 2011 and January 2013, occupations requiring a college education or apprenticeship training rose by 267,000, or 5%. Occupations requiring a university education grew by 120,000, or 4%.

Growth was more mitigated among occupations requiring a high school diploma or less (+62,000, or +1%). The number of management-related occupations (-18,000, or -1%) declined over the period.