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Region bucks the national trend of higher unemployment in December

Region of Waterloo

The economic downturn and subsequent job losses have been a big subtext of the battle against the novel coronavirus. After early issues, there was some recovery mid-year, but renewed lockdowns may help explain an increase in Canada’s unemployment rate last month for the first time since April.

Job losses amounted to 63,000 in December, 11,900 of which were in Ontario. Those numbers could rise this month given new restrictions to help curb spikes in the number of COVID-19 cases.

Waterloo Region, however, in some ways bucked the national trend, with more people in the workforce in December compared to previous months.

Charlene Hofbauer, executive director of the Workforce Planning Board of Waterloo Wellington Dufferin, attributed the increases to the state of some local industries.

“I can say that in Waterloo Region, definitely between November and December, we actually saw our employment numbers grow. The number of people who were working actually grew a little bit, which is kind of nice to hear for a change. We’ve been lucky that we’ve had some industries that have grown, actually, since before the pandemic. This might have been offset by losses in others (industries), and that has been stabilizating,” said Hofbauer.

While there has been some good news, she cautioned that the increases may not extend region-wide. The increases could be offset by losses elsewhere, and by those who choose not to participate in the workforce.

“Right now, this is one of our biggest challenges with our current labour market: people are dropping out. They’re not looking for work, and they’re not employed. So, we’ve seen that number, [the] participation rate, actually drop a fair amount in Waterloo Region during the pandemic.”

She says women in particular are dropping out of the workforce, with their participation in the labour force at a four-year low, something not seen since the 1980s.

Looking forward, Hofbauer says if things continue the way they are, she expects to see more losses in employment levels. This especially holds true for the accommodation and food service industry, which saw some 9,000 job losses from March to December.

Other industries which saw losses in the region include manufacturing (1,700) and retail (2,100) over that time span.

Industries that saw the most gains within the region between March and December were construction (1,600), transportation and warehousing (4,400), and health care and social assistance (7,500).

Businesses looking to survive and mitigate more job losses are dependent on local consumers and their behaviour, she added.

“I think the driver of that will be whether the local consumers can somehow support those stores and those mom-and-pop shops. I really think that’s what it’s going to come down to, choosing to stay in your community versus going to the bigger stores. And we are seeing, I will be honest with you, we are seeing a lot of different versions of what is happening,” said Hofbauer. “So, I think if we were very specifically talking about Woolwich, I would say that those mom-and-pop shops are going to stay or die, or disappear, based upon how the locals decide to interact with those stores.”

For those looking for work, Hofbauer says there are still jobs out there.

“There are still opportunities with some of the industries that seem to be a little bit more pandemic-proof, I guess is the way to say it. … There are still some opportunities out there for work. Right now I think if you are seeking work it just comes down to talking to your employer, asking questions to ensure your safety and being willing to explore maybe other options that you wouldn’t have explored before the pandemic.”

People seeking work can look at findyourjob.ca and can break down jobs to specific areas such as Woolwich or Wellesley townships.

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