The unemployment rate Saskatchewan in January according to numbers released from Statistics Canada was 4.3 percent, coming in below the national rate of 4.9 percent.
“It’s almost unprecedented,” said Golden West business commentator Paul Martin. “When you get to 3 percent, economists will tell you that’s virtually an impossible number to reach.”
Five percent is considered to be full employment for a region. This means that one in 20 people are moving around, changing jobs or taking time off. Reaching 3 percent is remarkable, Martin added, and it says a couple of things.
“One is that employers are very aggressive in hiring and creating employment opportunities,” Martin explained. “Two, that the labour is probably not as big as it needs to be.”
The low unemployment rate means an influx of people for the region is needed to fill those jobs. The population used in the labour force numbers from Statistics Canada is people between the ages of 15 and 65. Across the province, that portion of the population is growing to fill those jobs.
“People are moving into Saskatchewan from everywhere else – they're coming principally from all over the world but also we are now starting to see more migration from other provinces,” Martin pointed out from the numbers. He referenced that people are leaving Ontario for Saskatchewan, and it appears to partially be due to housing prices chasing people from that province.
The low unemployment rate also means that employers are also having to struggle to find the talent for the jobs because there aren’t just enough people to fill the roles as needed.
One of the arguments that are being raised frequently for the low unemployment rate, and companies having trouble filling those jobs is that there are people who are staying home, collecting government programs from the pandemic. Martin referenced work done by Eddie LeMoine, an employee engagement expert from Atlantic Canada to counter that argument in terms of the demographics.
“His calculation goes like this – through COVID, 8,500 people a week turned 65 in Canada. Through the course of COVID that’s about 900,000 people who reached retirement age, and we see a million job vacancies in the country right now. That number also correlates.”
The immigration numbers are also important when looking at the job pool, as there were 400,000 people who became immigrants in Canada in 2021, the latest year that numbers are available. A portion of those numbers, though, were people who were already in Canada who just changed their status – people on temporary work visas or on student visas.
For communities, there is also an important question to be asked, according to Martin.
“Am I getting my fair share of that volume of people that are coming in, in order to fill the jobs? With jobs then comes household formation, which means new homes, which means more traffic through the retail stores which then strengthens and builds communities.”
Martin then added that communities need to make it easier to attract and retain people in the area to fill the job vacancies.
One other aspect of the low unemployment numbers is the impact it has on the wages in an area. With fewer people available to work, it means that employers are having to increase the offered wages to entice people to come to work for them. Increasing wages can then have an impact on inflation that is often overlooked.
Martin shared out his thoughts on inflation, which is there are actually two kinds of inflation. One is the price of goods, which can fluctuate up and down. The second part is wage inflation. When wages go up, they stay up.
“If you see employers raising the rate for paying wages, that’s kind of permanently baked into the system and those rates will never go back down and that contributes to inflation that lasts for a long, long time,” Martin explained.
He added that wage inflation is something that isn’t often talked about, and the only way to keep wage inflation to a minimum is to increase the labour supply.
“Back to that story - population, population, population.”