Halifax Index 2020


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You are viewing the 2020 Halifax Index.

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Halifax In A Strong Position Before COVID-19

Halifax saw strong overall growth in its labour force in 2019. In recent years the city has experienced uncharacteristically large increases in employment, the participation rate, and the overall size of the labour pool, especially among the city’s youth.

Much of this was driven by new jobs in health care, retail trade, and professional services. Primary industries such as forestry and fishing also saw significant employment growth in relative terms.

Growing attention is also being paid to the phenomenon of precarious work. Looking at the quality of employment in Halifax before the COVID-19 crisis, roughly half of employees reported being satisfied with their current number of work hours. Younger and lower-income workers, however, generally expressed a lower level of satisfaction. Overall employees were generally satisfied and optimistic about the stability and predictability of their working hours.

COVID-19 Impacts

COVID-19 has had an immense and negative effect on Halifax’s labour market, as well as the province and the entire country. It is difficult to understate the enormity of these impacts; declines in employment overshadow any previous recession. Halifax was well positioned going into the crisis, with significant labour force growth in 2019. However, this must be viewed in the context of the current recession and the impacts that COVID-19 has had on the economy.

As we begin to understand the economic impacts of the pandemic, two things are clear. First, the effects have not been distributed evenly across all sectors of the economy. Industries such as accommodation, construction, retail trade, and tourism have experienced a much steeper economic contraction. Second, youth and women saw particularly large declines in employment. Initial job losses in March and April 2020 have disproportionally affected those in new roles, part-time jobs, and junior positions.

Furthermore, the accommodation, trade, and construction sectors are especially important to the economy of rural Halifax. They represent a larger share of businesses in rural regions than in the rest of the city. Impacts on these sectors will disproportionately affect those living and working in rural Halifax.

Halifax Index 2020
Labour Force

Halifax’s labour force grew by 6,400 in 2019, reaching a total of 255,400 people. This 2.6% increase in the size of the labour force is well above the city’s 10-year average annual growth rate of 1.1% and an indication of the strength of Halifax’s economy in 2019.

Even better news is that 6,500 people found employment throughout 2019 – the second largest increase for the number of jobs added to our economy in a calendar year. In 2019, 2,600 full-time jobs and 3,900 part-time jobs were added to Halifax’s economy.

The labour force participation rate increased by 0.2 percentage points, reaching 68.3%. This was the second year of positive growth, following 8 years of declining rates.

Youth participation (ages 15 - 24) increased more than any other age group: 2,900 youth joined the labour force in 2019, representing nearly half (45.3%) of the total labour force growth. The 55+ age group had the largest participation rate decrease in 2019, dropping one percentage point to 37.5%.

Halifax’s unemployment rate reached 5.8% (down 0.1 percentage points) in 2019, the second-highest rate among benchmark cities, but only half a percentage point from the middle of the pack. Quebec City and Victoria had the two lowest unemployment rates among all Canadian cities in 2019.

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0096-01

Labour Force Participation Rate

  • 2,600 full-time jobs and 3,900 part-time jobs were added to Halifax’s economy in 2019. In total, 81% of employment was full-time and 19% was part-time.
  • The male participation rate remained at 71.6%, while the female participation rate increased from 64.8% in 2018 to 65.2% in 2019.
  • The youth participation rate (ages 15 -24) increased to 72.7% in 2019 (up 3.2 percentage points) as an additional 2.900 youth joined Halifax’s labour force.

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0096-01

Unemployment Rate by Age Group

  • Halifax’s youth unemployment rate (ages 15 - 24) changed more than any other age group in 2019, dropping from 13.7% in 2018 to 10.3% in 2019. This 3.4 percentage point drop was the largest change in youth unemployment rates among the benchmark cities, improving Halifax’s position to third lowest.
  • In 2018, Halifax had the highest youth unemployment rate. The improved rate corresponds to an increase of 4,000 new jobs held by youth.

Halifax Index 2020
Key Industries

Halifax added 6,500 jobs in 2019 (+2.9%), bringing total employment up to 240,700 people. This impressive annual job growth is second only to the record of 9,600 jobs added in 2018.

Our economy is largely driven by service industries, with 86% of workers employed in these industries in 2019 and the remaining 14% employed in producing goods. This is essentially unchanged from 2018.

Looking back over the last decade, wholesale and retail trade industries added the most jobs (+5,800), followed closely by health care and social assistance (+5,300 jobs), and professional scientific and technical services (+5,200 jobs).

In relative terms, forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas industries grew by the largest share, with the 1,200 jobs added since 2009 representing a 75% increase in employment. Recent growth in the sales of lobster and other Nova Scotia seafood to Chinese markets are a leading driver for these industries. However, seafood exports to China collapsed while the nation fought the outbreak of COVID-19 in late 2019 and early 2020. Lobster season opened on May 15 – two weeks later than usual – and seafood exports have since resumed amid the continuing uncertainty of the pandemic. Labour shortages and pandemic-related supply chain disruptions will be likely cause for a smaller season than usual this year.

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0098-01

Employment by Industry

  • In 2019, Halifax’s annual employment growth was led by wholesale and retail trade (+1,700 jobs), health care and social assistance (+1,700 jobs), and forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas industries (+1,300 jobs).
  • 30% of Halifax workers are employed by service industries that are largely, if not completely, in the public sector (health care, education, and public administration).
  • Early labour force data indicate that the accommodation and food services industries have suffered the largest employment losses as a direct result of COVID-19. While some restaurants and retail stores maybe able to rebound relatively quickly, tourism is expected to take much longer to recover.

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0098-01

10-Year Change in Employment by Industry

  • Bolstered by the growing depth and capacity of Halifax’s information technology sector, the professional, scientific, and technical services industry has experienced strong employment growth in both absolute and relative terms.
  • Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Conference Board of Canada expected strong employment growth in Halifax through 2023, with the transportation and warehousing industry projected to lead relative job growth. Transportation is now one of the industries hit hardest by the impacts of COVID-19, alongside tourism, retail, accommodation, and food services.

Halifax Index 2020
Rural Impacts

Business count shares show which industries are most important in aggregate to rural Halifax. Construction, trade, and professional services lead the way. Primary industries1and transportation and warehousing also make up a larger share of business locations in rural Halifax.

By combining these insights with information on the sectors that have been most affected by the COVID-19 crisis, we can identify the biggest challenges facing rural Halifax in particular. Among the sectors hardest hit by COVID-19, accommodation and food services, trade, and construction stand out as being among the larger sectors in rural Halifax. The primary industries sector also is especially important to rural Halifax, but it sits in the middle of the pack in terms of employment losses by industry.

Provincial-level data are used here as monthly Halifax-level data are not available, except as a 3-month moving average.
Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0022-01

COVID-19 Impact on Employment by Industry

  • The biggest impact of COVID-19 on employment has been in the accommodation and food services industry with a drop in jobs of almost one-half from April 2019 to April 2020.
  • The service sector overall has been hit hard by COVID-19 with several components seeing job losses of more than 10%. In the goods sector, construction, transportation, and agriculture showed a loss over 10%.
  • A few industries – finance, real estate, and public administration – saw job gains from April 2019 to April 2020.

Source: Statistics Canada, Business Location Counts, December 2019

Share of Business Location Counts by Industry

  • Almost one-quarter of rural Halifax business locations are in the construction sector, which shed almost 5,000 jobs across Nova Scotia between April 2019 and April 2020.
  • Trade and accommodation and food services also stand out as being both key to the rural Halifax economy and as being affected especially strongly by the COVID-19 crisis.

Halifax Index 2020
Employment Stability

This year in our annual City Matters survey we asked Halifax residents about the stability of their employment. The survey was administered by MQO Research from mid- to late March, just as social-distancing measures were being established to combat the spread of COVID-19. Overall, results were generally positive. These figures can serve as benchmarks for future measures of employment stability, although the unusual nature of the March 2020 assessment period must be kept in mind.

Survey respondents worked an average of 38.3 hours per week. These hours varied minimally between sexes and across age groups, with respondents between ages 35 - 54 working the most (39.8 hours on average) and those ages 55 and older working the least (34.3 hours).

More than half (53%) of the respondents indicated they were working the right number of hours, 33% wanted a minor change in the number of hours they worked each week, and 13% wanted a major change. Satisfaction with working hours increased with age: 45% of respondents ages 18 - 34 were satisfied with their hours as compared to 56% of respondents ages 35 - 54 and 63% of respondents over age 55. Among those who wanted a change, 11% wanted fewer hours and 35% wanted more. Respondents with lower incomes typically wanted more hours, while respondents with higher incomes wanted fewer hours.

Only 11% of survey respondents indicated that their working hours varied significantly. Furthermore, 86% of respondents were very or somewhat satisfied with the predictability of their working hours from week to week (53% very satisfied, 33% somewhat satisfied).

80% of respondents indicated their employment was either very stable (44%) or somewhat stable (36%). Female respondents and those ages 55+ experienced more instability, with 18% of both demographic groups reporting their work was not very stable or not at all stable.

Questions were included about precarious work to improve our knowledge about its presence in Halifax and to provide benchmark data for future years. However, many jobs and livelihoods were, and continue to be, impacted by COVID-19. Employment stability likely will be significantly lower and more volatile than the results presented in this survey until we emerge from this public health crisis.

Survey Question: Are you currently working [read responses]?
Source: MQO Research, City Matters 2020

Sufficiency of Working Hours by Age

  • Respondents ages 18 - 34 were the only demographic with fewer than half answering they were working the right number of hours (45%). Satisfaction with working hours increased with age.
  • While the share of respondents indicating they were working the right amount of hours was similar across income levels, a higher share of respondents with lower household incomes reported working fewer hours than they would like.
  • Results were largely similar between male and female respondents, but with a higher share of female respondents working more than they would like (38%) as compared to male respondents (32%) and a higher share of male respondents working less than they would like (15%) as compared to female respondents (8%).

Survey Question: How satisfied are you with the predictability of your hours of work from week to week?
Source: MQO Research, City Matters 2020

Predictability of Working Hours

  • Respondents with lower incomes were significantly less satisfied with the predictability of their working hours: nearly one quarter (24%) of respondents with household incomes below $50,000 were very or somewhat dissatisfied as compared to 6% of respondents with household incomes greater than $125,000.
  • Respondents ages 35 - 54 were the most satisfied, with 91% very or somewhat satisfied and only 9% somewhat or very dissatisfied. Those ages 18 - 34 were the least satisfied with the predictability of their working hours (79% very or somewhat satisfied, and 19% somewhat or very dissatisfied).

Survey Question: How stable do you expect your employment to be over the next year?
Source: MQO Research, City Matters 2020

Job Stability by Income

  • Not surprisingly, respondents with higher household incomes were more optimistic about the stability of their work than respondents with lower household incomes.
  • Results were similar across demographic groups, with the most notable difference being marginally higher levels of expected instability reported by female respondents and those ages 55 and older.


Prior to the COVID-19 crisis, Halifax’s GDP was growing faster than most benchmark cities. Business confidence was surpassing record heights, retail sales were increasing with exceptional pace, and consumer confidence was nearing an all-time high.



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