Niagara’s unemployment rate is continuing a five-month rise that began in August.
But the numbers aren’t as dire as it might seem.
Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey, released Friday, has December’s unemployment rate in St. Catharines-Niagara at 8.0 per cent.
West of the Atlantic provinces, only Montreal (8.7 per cent) and Windsor (9.7 per cent) fared worse last month, of major jurisdictions surveyed.
And while job numbers are disproportionately represented by seasonal employment in Niagara, the statistics show a monthly track up from 6.5 per cent in August.
However, Statistics Canada analyst Vincent Ferrao cautions the recent seasonally-adjusted unemployment numbers can be misleading.
Other employment statistics paint a not-so-bleak picture.
While unemployment was up a full percent from a year ago, another force is at play — higher labour force participation.
Over a year — from December to December – there were 13,700 more in the labour force but only 10,500 more people were working, Ferrao said. The majority of those were represented by working age men.
“Although there were more people working, not enough jobs were created for everybody who came into the labour force looking for work,” he said. “That’s why your unemployment rate went up by a full point.
“There’s more activity in the labour market, so you’ll need more (jobs) to bump that unemployment rate down,” he said. “Over the year, you actually had employment growth.”
Ferrao said the proportion of working people aged 15 and over was also 60.3 per cent. That’s up almost three percentage points from a year ago.
Statistics Canada’s census metropolitan area for St. Catharines-Niagara does not include Grimsby or West Lincoln.
Ontario as a whole was the only province with a growth in employment in December, reporting a net gain of 35,000 jobs to help lower the province’s unemployment rate from 6.9 to 6.7 per cent.
The news for Niagara comes on the heels of a major economic report released December that painted a bright picture for the region.
December’s Ontario Economic Update said employment in the “Hamilton-Niagara Peninsula Economic Region” expanded at a faster pace in 2015 than in previous years.
The St. Catharines-Niagara census metro area led with a near five per cent rise in employment – while employment growth in the Brantford census area is at a 1.5 per cent pace this year and Hamilton has growth of around one per cent per year.
It also says service-producing industries, including tourism and health have been sources of employment growth regionally. Closures in the manufacturing sector have been subsiding.
The report was created by the Ontario Chamber of Commerce and the Credit Unions of Ontario, with support from the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce.
Niagara Region economic director Bob Seguin said market and labour force participation rates are factors in the latest jobs data.
“There has (also) been recent evidence, through individual firm reports, of sizeable hiring by a number of manufacturing small to medium enterprises throughout Niagara,” Seguin said.
“I would agree that the … manufacturing outlook is positive, (but) with some challenges,” he said.
“And that’s particularly for those whose operations service the energy sector.”
Mishka Balsom, CEO of the Greater Niagara Chamber of Commerce, said summer unemployment rate was lower this year than last but winter was higher.
“However, the participation rate is also higher than it was in summer and much higher than it was last year,” Balsom said. “And the employment rate is significantly higher than it was last year and still higher in November to December than it has been all summer.
That more people are in the workforce than before is a “good thing,” she said.
“The employment rate is also trending up – that’s also good. Basically, what’s happening is more people are entering the workforce and most of them are finding jobs.
“Of course we need to be creating more jobs here,” Balsom said.
“Every region with a unemployment rate greater than six per cent needs to be creating more jobs.”