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OPPORTUNITIES NORTH: NWT employment rate strongest in Canada

The Northwest Territories led all provinces and territories with a 70.7 per cent employment rate as of April.
The NWT’s public sector employed 11,700 residents while the private sector stood at 10,300 workers as of March. The public sector overtook the private sector around the time that the Covid-19 pandemic occurred and it has been widening the gap ever since. NNSL file photo

The Northwest Territories led all provinces and territories with a 70.7 per cent employment rate as of April.

The national rate was 61.6 per cent, seasonally unadjusted.

The NWT’s employment rate for all of 2022 was 73.1 per cent, which the GNWT deems as close to full employment.

There were 24,100 people employed in the NWT versus 1,400 unemployed, creating an unemployment rate of 5.5 per cent. Comparing it to the month of April for each year for the past decade, it’s the lowest rate. The highest was 8.9 per cent in April 2014.

However, September 2022 saw the lowest recent NWT unemployment rate for any month, at 3.8 per cent.

The NWT had 8,600 eligible people who were not among the labour force as of April, putting the participation rate at 74.8 per cent.

As of March, the unemployment rate among men was at 7.7 per cent compared to 3.3 per cent among women.

In regards to age groups, young workers from 15 to 24 years old saw an unemployment rate of 17.2 per cent while those 25 years and older were at 3.6 per cent.

The unemployment rate among Indigenous people stood at 12.2 per cent in March. For non-Indigenous people, it was 1.3 per cent.

Yellowknife’s unemployment rate was 1.4 per cent while the rest of the territory was at 10.4 per cent in March.

Between March and April, the public sector increased by 800 jobs while self-employment grew by 200 jobs. That more than offset losses in the private sector, according to the NWT Bureau of Statistics.

During that same time frame, employment was up in public administration (400 jobs), education (300), and transportation and warehousing (200), offsetting declines in construction, business, building and other support services.

Public sector outstripping private sector

As of March, there were 20,800 full-time workers in the territory, whereas 2,900 were employed part-time.

Service-producing industries provided work for 19,900 people compared to 3,800 in goods-producing industries.

The public sector employed 11,700 residents while the private sector stood at 10,300 workers. Those who were self-employed numbered 1,600.

The GNWT is forecasting that a “tight labour market” will persist, with labour shortages in some industries, such as construction, health care, education and food services posing “short-term and long-term risks to the economic outlook because an inability to fill vacant positions may hamper private-sector activity (businesses can not maintain or expand operations) and may reduce the quality of life for NWT residents (previously available services become limited or unavailable).”

Another trend, which started around the time that the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, is that the public sector — which often pays better, particularly more than small and medium-sized businesses can afford — overtook the private sector 2020 and the gap has been growing ever since.

“If the composition of employment does not reverse, there is a risk that the NWT economy will become increasingly dependent on government, leading to a hollowing out of the private sector,” the territorial government acknowledges in its 2023-24 Economic Review.

Earnings rising

The GNWT calculates that wages rose by 2.1 per cent in 2022 and projects that they will surge by 2.8 per cent in 2023. Despite that, in its 2023-24 Economic Review, the GNWT notes that “wage growth is being outpaced by consumer price growth.”

The impact of inflation, which causes wages to rise, was most noticeable in health care in 2022, with gross earnings increasing $178 weekly.

In addition, some significant jumps occurred between January and February 2023, with earnings shooting up $240 weekly in construction and $174 per week in goods-producing industries. Health care climbed by $91 weekly between the first two months of this year.

Minimum wage in the NWT is $15.20 per hour. Last September, the territorial government introduced a formula based on the percentage change in the consumer price index (CPI), a measure of inflation, that will result in an annual adjustment each September. The last increase to the NWT minimum wage — $1.74 per hour — came on Sept. 1, 2021.

Funding to facilitate labour

The territorial government has several pots of money intended to foster the labour market.

The Small Community Employment fund consists of $4 million to support small NWT communities and regional centres in developing employment opportunities.

Building Skills 4 Success in the NWT has $1.7 million to aid residents with literacy and “everyday skills needed to succeed in NWT workplaces and to continue learning.”

There’s $883,000 through Labour Market Development Agreement Contributions from the federal government.

Workforce Development Agreement Contributions amount to $796,000 for 2023-24 “to provide financial assistance to community partners for training, supports, employment partnerships, and knowledge building programs and services designed to support people in obtaining and maintaining employment in the Northwest Territories.”

To make it more affordable to go to work, the Department of Education, Culture and Employment offers grants and contributions toward child care. For example, the Early Childhood Child Care Fee Reduction Subsidy equates to $6.3 million.

The Early Childhood Program Operator Subsidy is worth $4.85 million. It provides grants to support the operations of licensed daycare and day home operators.

Fact file

NWT average weekly gross earnings by industry in 2022 (brackets indicate difference from 2021)

Goods-producing industries $2,061 (+$67)

Service-producing industries $1,452 (+$26)

Construction $1,721 (+$25)

Transportation and warehousing $1,381 ($18)

Industrial aggregate $1,566 (+$39)

Trade $941 (+$5)

Health care and social assistance $1,497 (+$178)

Public administration $1,822 (-$9)

Other services $1,013 (+$109)

Source: NWT Bureau of Statistics

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About the Author: Derek Neary

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