Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jobless picture in Canada grim

-- 38,000 job seekers give up search -- Manitoba sees net loss of 1,500 positions

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OTTAWA -- Unemployed Canadians continued to struggle with a tough job market last month as the slow-moving economy laid an egg in February, unexpectedly shedding 2,800 jobs.

The national unemployment rate dropped to 7.4 per cent, but that was because close to a net 38,000 frustrated job seekers simply gave up the search.

The news from Statistics Canada was particularly grim for young Canadians. Employment among the 15-24 age cohort fell another 26,800 in February and now is down almost 300,000 jobs since the beginning of the recession in 2008.

Manitoba saw its unemployment rate edge up two-tenths of a percentage point to 5.6 per cent after the provincial economy posted a net loss of about 1,500 jobs for the month.

Statistics Canada said while Manitoba added nearly 700 part-time positions during the month, it also shed about 2,100 full-time ones, for a net loss of 1,500, rounded off.

But the province still boasted the third-lowest jobless rates behind Alberta and Saskatchewan's five per cent.

University of Manitoba economist John McCallum said the two most troubling aspects of the Manitoba numbers are that the economy created only 600 new jobs in the previous 12 months and shed 10,000 manufacturing jobs.

"When you lose 10,000 manufacturing jobs, which tend to be pretty good-paying jobs, and only create 600 new jobs, that's a real tough environment to bring down a (provincial) budget in," he said.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the Statistics Canada report "disappointing," but stressed some positives, including increased full-time employment, continuing a trend, and a brightening outlook in the United States.

Still, Harper conceded his government has work to do and promised action in the upcoming March 29 budget.

"Obviously we will not keep our eye off the ball and there will be a lot of measures in the budget to create jobs and get us on a long-term sustainable track," he told an event in Toronto.

Liberal critic Scott Brison berated the government's record, particularly on youth employment, saying "an entire generation of Canadians is losing hope."

February's report continues a string of poor results dating to October and wiping out what had been a heady period of growth and falling unemployment rates.

"Essentially, the labour market has been flat on its back for the last five months -- it's gone nowhere," said Douglas Porter, deputy chief economist with the Bank of Montreal.

Revised figures show the economy has in fact shed 37,000 jobs since October.

Porter said Canadians shouldn't expect much better news going forward for a while.

"Basically, the easy job gains are gone," he said. "The things that really drove jobs early in the cycle are simply not going to be there, whether it's government hiring or retail-related jobs driven by consumer spending."

Despite Harper's reference to "a lot of measures" coming in the budget, the statements from ministers suggest there will be little to generate short-term job growth. In fact, the expectation is Finance Minister Jim Flaherty will bring in an austerity budget that reduces spending and cuts the public service.

The ball is being left to the private sector to carry, but TD Bank economist Diana Petramala said corporations appear to be spooked over European debt problems.

"The weakness... largely reflects a small crisis of confidence, with businesses remaining reluctant to add to payrolls as rising financial risks in Europe threatened future demand prospects," she said.

That is in contrast to the United States, which, after years of playing second fiddle to Canada in terms of job generation, now appears to be catching up.

On Friday, the U.S. reported an additional 227,000 jobs for February to complete three of the best months of hiring in four years. Monthly gains over that period averaged 245,000.

That is slightly above the consensus estimate from economists, while in Canada the result badly missed expectations. Economists had called for an increase of 15,000 jobs.

-- The Canadian Press, with files by Murray McNeill

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 10, 2012 B4

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