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Employment has grown in the last three decades in a number of industries, especially in services. The number of people with a job hit a peak of 16 million in 2005, almost 63% of the working-age population. The employment rate for women has risen substantially, whereas the rate for men has dropped well below that of the late 1970s.

After rising sharply during the recessions of the early 1980s and 1990s, the unemployment rate dropped in 2000 to 6.8%—the lowest rate in three decades. In 2005, the unemployment rate averaged 6.8%, which means that 1.2 million people were out of work. The youth unemployment rate, which was about 12% in 2005, remains much higher than the rate for the rest of the population.

The proportion of people who are out of work varies widely from province to province. In 2005, the unemployment rate ranged from 3.9% in Alberta to 15.2% in Newfoundland and Labrador.

More Canadians have jobs

Chart: Employment, by industryThe wholesale and retail trade industry employs the largest number of Canadians—more than 2.5 million people in 2005. Soaring consumer spending in recent years has brought about a boom in retail sales and employment. Many jobs in wholesale and retail trade are held by young people and adult women.

Since 1990, manufacturing has taken second place to wholesale and retail trade in terms of the number of Canadians employed. Manufacturing still comes first, however, for the number of hours worked, and for much higher wages.

In 2005, the health care and social assistance industry ranked third among the top employers, as it has consistently since 1976. Roughly 1.7 million people work in the industry, which accounts for 11% of all jobs in Canada.

Since 1987, employment has more than doubled in two industries. In business services, building and other support services, the number of employees grew from 271,000 in 1987 to 654,000 in 2005. This industry includes employment placement agencies, telephone call centres, office administrative services, landscaping services and janitorial services.

Meanwhile, in professional, scientific and technical services, employment jumped from 487,000 in 1987 to 1.0 million in 2005. This growth was particularly strong in computer systems design services.

About 8.5 million people were not part of the labour force in 2005. However, the proportion of people not in the labour force relative to the working-age population has been falling steadily, from about 38% in 1976 to 33% in 2005. In the future, this trend could reverse itself due to an aging population and an anticipated jump in the number of retirees.

A shifting job market

Chart: Employment rate, by sexSince the beginning of 2000, job growth has been led by the mining, construction and real estate services industries. In 2005, employment was up 32% in mining, 26% in construction and 15% in finance, insurance and real estate services compared with 2000. These increases took place following a decade during which employment declined in the three industries. The reversal was due to a boom in the commodity and housing markets.

Conversely, some industries that experienced substantial growth during the 1990s have fallen on harder times recently. For example, manufacturing has been in a slump since 2000. The reversal was led by the computer and electronics manufacturing industries, as the 45,000 jobs created in the 1990s disappeared.

As a result of their recovery, the mining and construction industries have a younger work force. In addition, young people have better job opportunities in rural areas than in cities.

Fewer hours spent at work

Chart: Average actual hours worked per weekFor both men and women in 2005, the average number of hours actually worked at a principal job was 37.1 hours a week for men and 29.4 for women. This marked a slight increase from 2003 when hours worked reached their lowest level on record. The rise is probably attributable to the sharp increase in the proportion of employed people working full time since 2003.

The proportion of people working part time at their principal job rose from 12% in 1976 to 18% in 2005. Young people, women aged 25 to 54 and older workers tend to prefer lighter work schedules. Most young people opt for part-time work because they are in school, whereas older workers choose lighter work schedules due to personal preferences, often to ease the transition to retirement.

Although the 40-hour work week remained the predominant work schedule, the proportion of men and women who worked 40 hours a week was much smaller in 2005 than in 1976.

The proportion of employees who worked overtime—especially unpaid overtime—increased, but the average amount of overtime hours declined.In 2005, employees worked an average of 8.5 extra hours per week, down from 9.3 hours in 1997.

Fewer low wage earners

In 2005, the average hourly wage in Canada was $19.09 per hour before taxes and other deductions, a 3.2% increase from the year before. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 2.2% in the same period. 

Fewer employees were at the bottom of the wage scale, while more found themselves at the top end in 2004 than in 1997. For example, in 1997, 32% of employees earned less than $12 per hour. Seven years later that proportion had dropped to 28%. In contrast, the proportion earning $24 or more per hour rose over this period, from 22% to 24%.