FINLAYSON: COVID-related job losses concentrated in urban areas… especially Metro Vancouver

The biggest job losses, in absolute terms, have been in Metro Vancouver

A little talked about dimension of the impact of COVID-19 on the provincial labour market is the differing regional employment profiles. Upon inspection, these turn out to be significant.

The biggest job losses, in absolute terms, have been in Metro Vancouver. This is not surprising, since about half of the province’s population lives there. But proportionally, Metro Vancouver has been harder hit by the virus-driven recession than other parts of the province. Employment in Metro Vancouver is still down 12 per cent from February. In comparison, B.C.’s other three other census metropolitan areas – Abbotsford-Mission, Kelowna, and Greater Victoria — have seen more moderate job losses in the range of 5-7 per cent.

Meanwhile, the job numbers for non-metro British Columbia are striking. Collectively, employment in regions of the province other than the four census metropolitan areas has fully recovered since the spring. True, some non-metropolitan local economies have been more affected than others. But in general, smaller cities and rural areas have fared better in terms of job losses, particularly compared the province’s largest urban centre.

The fact that Metro Vancouver has experienced the steepest job losses reflects the region’s industrial and employment mix. Industries hammered hardest by the lockdown of consumer-facing business and the virtual cessation of international travel have an over-sized presence in the lower mainland’s economy relative to non-metropolitan regions as well as the province’s other three census metropolitan areas.

The impacts of no cruise ships, significant job losses in air transportation, no tour operators, the cancellation of all major audience-attended sporting events and concerts, no conventions, shuttered casinos, the reduction in business travel, and a bare trickle of international tourists – all of these are felt most acutely in Metro Vancouver.

The industries that remain fully or partially closed are heavily represented in the City of Vancouver and its surrounding suburbs. Coupled with the shift to remote working – starkly evident in the strange near-emptiness of downtown Vancouver – these trends have delivered a body blow to large segments of the Metro Vancouver economy.

Many businesses in the region’s tourism, travel, event and accommodation sectors have been struggling to survive. And lots of lower mainland retailers have also seen traffic drop off sharply.

On the other hand, manufacturing, forestry, mining, oil and gas, and agriculture have regained all of the jobs lost since February, and then some. These industries are over-represented in regions of B.C. beyond Metro Vancouver.

In addition, it should not be overlooked that the public sector’s economic footprint is often proportionally larger in small communities – and most public sector organizations have not laid off staff since February. Thus, the relative stability of public sector jobs has also supported employment in non-urban areas of the province.

Policy makers should be alive to the comparative strengths and weaknesses of both urban and non-metropolitan economies amid the ongoing COVID-19 saga. It is important to pay attention to the economic health of the industries underpinning different communities and regional economies.

Of interest, several of B.C.’s leading export industries have continued to operate during the pandemic, and these industries are central to the economies of non-metropolitan regions. B.C. needs to build upon the relative resiliency of our export-oriented industries to support the regions where they are based.

In Metro Vancouver, making further headway in regaining lost jobs depends on reopening closed or partially operating sectors as well as the return of international travel, business meetings and conventions. Absent an effective vaccine or herd immunity being achieved, the employment recovery in Metro Vancouver and some other B.C. urban areas is apt to be both sluggish and uneven.

Jock Finlayson is executive vice president and chief policy officer of the Business Council of British Columbia

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Josie Osborne and her campaign team watch the results roll in during B.C.’s provincial election on Saturday night. (Photo courtesy of Josie Osborne)
Tofino expected to wait until New Year to elect new mayor after Josie Osborne wins provincial seat

Josie Osborne is the West Coast’s new MLA and that means Tofino needs a new mayor.

Dylan Hillis preparing collagen samples from ancient dog bones at the UBC musuem of Anthropology. Photo: Eric Guiry
Ancient ‘woolly dog’ ate mostly fish, new University of Victoria study finds

Study gives researchers better understanding of human-dog relationships on Tsehaht First Nation

NDP headquarters on election night, Oct. 24, 2020. (Katya Slepian/Black Press Media)
ELECTION 2020: Live blog from B.C. party headquarters

BC NDP projected to win majority government – but celebrations will look different this election

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

FILE – Provincial Health Officer Dr. Bonnie Henry provides the latest update on the COVID-19 pandemic in the province during a press conference in the press theatre at Legislature in Victoria, B.C., on Thursday, October 22, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. shatters COVID-19 records with 817 weekend cases; masks now expected indoors

Three people have died over the past three reporting periods

The ‘new normal’ for hockey parents in Chilliwack and elsewhere in B.C., watching their kids from outside of the arena due to COVID-19 protocols. (Submitted photo)
Chilliwack hockey parents petition to be let back in the arena

Refused access due to pandemic protocols, parents are now applying pressure to loosen the rules

Aaliyah Rosa. File photo
Crown says murder of B.C. girl, 7, by accused mother was planned, deliberate

The trial of KerryAnn Lewis began Monday in New Westminster

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Commissioner Austin Cullen listens to introductions before opening statements at the Cullen Commission of Inquiry into Money Laundering in British Columbia, in Vancouver, on February 24, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. money laundering inquiry hears of $800,000 and more in bags, luggage, backpacks

The lottery corporation has said it consistently reported suspicious transactions to Fintrac

Some of the characters in the League of Legends video game. (Photo: na.leagueoflegends.com)
E-sports trial at B.C. high schools to start with ‘League of Legends’ team game

For fall launch, Vancouver’s GameSeta company partners with BC School Sports

Most Read