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Bryan Yu: B.C. payrolls edge up and average wages pop compared with 2022

B.C. job growth stumbles as businesses brace for uncertainty
On a year-over-year basis, December’s average earnings in B.C. were up 6.7 per cent higher.

B.C. employers reported a slight increase in their non-farm payrolls in December.

The latest Survey of Employers, Payroll and Hours (SEPH) reported virtually unchanged results for December. There was a small increase of 678 positions. The total job counts in B.C. remained steady at about 2.55 million positions. Goods-producing industries added 0.5 per cent or 1,812 more positions, while services-producing industries saw close to no change, with 824 fewer positions. Despite an increase of nearly 1,000 more vacancies during the month, the seasonally adjusted job vacancy rate remained steady at 4.2 per cent, the same as in November. Total vacancies reached 107,120 positions.

Goods-producing industries saw broad and modest job-count increases except in manufacturing, which posted a mild decline. December’s results continued to indicate the lowest number of payrolls in manufacturing since the end of 2020. The largest increase among goods-producing industries was seen in the construction sector, up 0.8 per cent or 1,424 positions. Mixed results were seen in the services-producing industries in December. Notable increases were reported in health care and social assistance, with 2,112 positions added (0.6 per cent) and in public administration, with 1,082 positions (0.7 per cent). Meanwhile, there was a decrease of 1,279 (0.7 per cent) reported in accommodation and food services.

On the wage front, seasonally adjusted average weekly earnings in B.C. edged down 0.3 per cent to $1,230 when compared to November, when average weekly earnings surged. On a year-over-year basis, December’s average earnings in B.C. were up 6.7 per cent higher.

B.C. small and medium-scale enterprises (SMEs) showed greater optimism in February according to the latest Canadian Federation of Independent Business Barometer survey for February. The long-term index increased to 52.7 points from the previous month’s 49.4 points, now above the index’s neutral benchmark of 50 points. Short-term three-month index also increased to 47.5 points from 39.7 points in January and was the highest reading since September 2023. However, both indicators remained at levels consistent with a near-recessed economy and B.C. businesses are generally more downbeat than in other provinces. In February, expectations among small-firm owners in B.C. outperformed those in some other provinces. However, business optimism is being dampened by a slowing economy and uncertainty surrounding future economic performance.

According to the survey, fewer small businesses plan to reduce their full-time staff compared to those in January. Additionally, 29 per cent of B.C. SMEs considered themselves in a good state of business health, up from 25 per cent in the prior month. Insufficient demand, shortages of skilled and unskilled labour and limited working capital remain the biggest challenges with expanding production and sales growth. Limited physical space and time constraints were also factors limiting sales and production growth. Tax and wage costs were the major input cost constraints while fuel, insurance and occupancy costs were other cost constraints reported by SMEs.

Bryan Yu is chief economist at Central 1.