Halifax Index 2021


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You are viewing the 2021 Halifax Index.

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After robust growth in 2019, the labour force participation rate dropped to the lowest level in 20 years. The female participation rate set a new record low of 63.6%, while the male rate dipped slightly to 70.2%. Similarly, unemployment increased significantly. The most affected sectors were service industries connected to travel, those requiring close contact, and those serving downtown office clients. Overall, 84% of the jobs lost were in the service sector. The discrepancy between male and female labour market outcomes can be explained in part by the fact that women tend to be overrepresented in employment in these hardest-hit sectors.

On a more optimistic note, Halifax led all Canadian cities in employment growth in early 2021. According to the 2021 City Matters Survey carried out by MQO Research, 83% of employed respondents predicted that their employment status over the next year would be either “very stable” (45%) or “somewhat stable” (39%). As vaccines are rolled out, borders reopen for travel, and employees return to their workplaces, Halifax should resume its pre-pandemic trend of strong labour market progress.

COVID-19 Recovery

Since spring 2020, Halifax’s labour market has recovered impressively. In September, Halifax’s aggregate employment surpassed pre-pandemic levels. Moreover, monthly employment statistics in the first three months of 2021 showed Halifax posting the strongest recovery among all major cities in Canada. These aggregate successes, though, should not overshadow the fact that certain sectors like accommodation and food services, wholesale and retail trade, and business and building support services continue to suffer deep employment losses. Furthermore, the third wave of the COVID-19 outbreak in mid-April remains an unknown as does its impact on our labour market.

Halifax Index 2021
Labour Force

COVID-19 significantly affected Halifax’s labour market in 2020. The labour force grew by only 400 people, to a total of 249,000. This slight 0.2% increase in labour force size is well below the 2019 rate of 2.6% as well as the 10-year average of 0.8%. With restrictions to fight the spread of the virus, people may have deferred their entry into the labour force. Additionally, school closures and lack of child care support may have forced parents to leave the workforce for some time, with women likely bearing the brunt of this burden. In fact, the number of people ages 15 and older not in the labour force increased by 7,500, 68% of whom were female.

The labour force participation rate dropped to its lowest point in 20 years at 66.7%. The female participation rate set a record-low of 63.6%, falling 1.5 percentage points since 2019. The male participation rate also fell 1.1 percentage points to 70.2% in 2020; however, it was still higher than the record-low of 69.8% seen in 2017.

Participation rates for youth (ages 15 - 24) dropped 8.2 percentage points in 2020, the largest decrease across all age groups. The smallest decrease was experienced by those 25 - 54.This group fell only 0.8 percentage points. Interestingly, the participation rate of people 65 years and over increased for the second successive year, rising by 1.2 percentage points in 2020. Within this age group, 22% of workers had temporary employment, the second highest across all age groups. This may be an indication of baby boomers opting for gig work as they transition into retirement.

The unemployment rate in Halifax set a new record-high in 2020 reaching 8.7% though this can largely be attributed to the abnormal conditions created by the pandemic. Male and female unemployment rates each reached all-time highs: 8.8% and 8.6%, respectively. However, the City Matters Survey shows that most employed people are fairly confident in the stability of their employment, with 81% of males and 86% of females believing their employment will be “very” or “somewhat” stable in the coming year.

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0385-01

Labour Force Participation Rate

  • With a 66.7% labour participation rate in 2020, 227,400 people were employed in Halifax.
  • The male participation rate was at 70.2%, the lowest in three years. The female participation rate was 63.6%, the lowest it has been in recent history.
  • The youth (ages 15 - 24) participation rate decreased to 65.2% (down 8.2 percentage points from 2019).

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0385-01

Unemployment Rate by Age Group

  • Halifax’s unemployment rate for youth (ages 15 - 24) increased 4.9 percentage points from 2019 to 2020. At 15.3%, it was the highest across all age cohorts.
  • The overall unemployment rate increased by 2.9 percentage points to a record-high of 8.7%.
  • Across benchmark cities, Halifax’s unemployment rate (8.7%) was lower than only St. John’s (9.7%) and KCW (9.6%).

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0385-01

Unemployment Rate by Sex

  • Halifax was in the middle of the pack for male unemployment (8.8%) and had the second-highest female unemployment rate (8.6%) across the six benchmark cities.
  • St. John’s (11.9%) recorded the highest unemployment rate for males, while the highest for females was in KCW (10.4%).
  • Halifax experienced its highest unemployment rates on record for both males and females.

Survey Question: "How stable do you expect your employment to be over the next year?"

Source: MQO Research, City Matters Survey (2021)

Stability of Employment By Age and Sex

  • In total, 48% of males and 42% of females responded that their employment would be “very stable” over the next year. In contrast, 6% of male respondents and 2% of female respondents believed their employment was “not at all stable.”
  • In both the 35 - 54 and the 55+ age groups, 49% of respondents expected their employment to be “very stable” through 2021. Only 37% of respondents ages 18 - 34 believed their employment to be “very stable.”
  • Not surprisingly, younger respondents are the least confident about employment prospects. Almost one-quarter of those ages 18 - 34 said their employment over the next year looked either “not very stable” or “not at all stable.”

Share of Business-Owner Respondents, Halifax, 2021

Business Succession Plans

Overall %

Full-time Employees

Less than 2

2 - 10


Currently working on your business succession plan





Intend to start working on your business succession plan in the next 12 months





Not intending to start working on your business succession plan in the next 12 months





Succession plan is done/in place





Source: Narrative Research, Business Confidence Survey

Succession Planning

Survey Question: For respondents planning on retiring in 5 years, "Which one of the following statements best describes your situation concerning your business succession plan?"

  • Only 8% of business owners who responded have a succession plan done or in place. Businesses with more than 11 employees were more likely to have a succession plan than smaller ones.
  • Two-thirds of retiring business owners are either currently working on or intend to start working on their succession plans in the next 12 months.
  • Of the businesses surveyed, 27% have no intention to start work on a succession plan over the next year; 41% of those with fewer than 2 employees fall in this category.

Halifax Index 2021

As expected, total employment fell across all benchmark cities. Halifax experienced the smallest drop in the services-producing sector with an annual decline of 2.8%, and it was in the middle of the pack in the goods-producing sector with a drop of 3.4%.

In total, Halifax lost 6,700 jobs in 2020, bringing the number of employed people to 227,400. This 2.9% decrease was the largest drop in employment that Halifax has ever experienced. Service industries make up the majority of jobs in Halifax and, being the most affected by the pandemic, it is no surprise that 84% of the total jobs lost were also in these industries.

The wholesale and retail trade industry, which added the most jobs in 2019, lost the most in 2020 with a reduction of 5,000 positions (-13%). This was followed by the accommodation and food services industry with 4,300 jobs lost (-23%). Without government programs like the Canada Emergency Business Account and Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy, employment losses could have been far worse.

Although not hit as hard as the service sector, the goods-producing sector experienced a net loss of 1,100 jobs. Employment losses in the forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas sectors accounted for 73% of this total followed by 18% in the construction industry.

Taking a more long-term lens, jobs in professional, scientific and technical services saw the largest increase over the last decade, growing by 35.5%. This was followed by the educational services industry (15%). The largest fall in employment over the past decade was experienced in the information, culture and recreation industry (-10.5%) followed by the accommodation and food services industry (-10.4%).

Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0384-01

Employment Change By Sector

  • Across benchmark cities, employment in both the goods-producing and the services-producing sectors in Halifax have fared relatively well.
  • The services-producing sector in Halifax was the least-affected across all benchmark cities with a 2.8% fall in employment. All other cities had job losses in this sector that ranged from 4.2% to 8.6%.
  • In the goods-producing sector, employment in Halifax fell by 3.4%, 1.6 percentage points more than Victoria, which suffered the smallest loss. Regina saw employment in the goods-producing sector drop by 8.9%.

Data for agriculture are suppressed.
Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0348-01

Employment by Industry

  • More than 85% of Halifax’s employed labour force was in the services-producing sector in 2020 as has been the case for over 20 years.
  • The two service-oriented sectors that experienced the deepest job losses were accommodation and food services (-23%) and wholesale and retail trade (-13%). Despite the decline, they still employed 14,600 and 34,600 people, respectively.
  • In the goods-producing sector, forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, and oil and gas employed the least number of people with 1,900 and experienced the biggest drop (-30%).
  • Across industrial sectors, employment declines are highly correlated with the pandemic.

Data for agriculture are suppressed.
Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Table 14-10-0348-01

10-Year Change in Employment by Industry

  • Halifax’s investment in developing its Innovation District continues to bear fruit with employment in the professional, scientific and technical services industry increasing by 35% in the last decade. The educational services industry followed with a 10-year increase of 15%.
  • In the decade leading up to 2019, the accommodation and food services industry grew by 24.3%. However, having been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, this industry fell 10.4% between 2010 and 2020.
  • The industry most affected by COVID-19 was wholesale and retail trade. However, because this sector experienced high growth between 2009 and 2019, 2020 figures remained above 2010 levels. Almost all industries that experienced a reduction over the 10-year period were expected to be the most susceptible to job loss due to the pandemic.

Halifax Index 2021
Workplace Safety

Despite a challenging year, the injury rate in Nova Scotia continued its long-term improvement trend in 2020, dropping to 1.53 injuries per 100 covered workers. This improvement reflects the dedication of workers, employers, and organizations in preventing workplace injuries and building stronger safety cultures and practices.

The number of new time-loss claims fell by 12% due in part to the pandemic and its impact on the workforce. At the same time, the number of days lost to workplace injuries rose in 2020, as a combination of factors – including reduced access to physiotherapy and other health services – increased the amount of time it took for workers to make a safe and healthy return to work.

Source: Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, Custom Request

Time-Loss Injury Claims

  • The injury rate dropped for the third consecutive year to 1.53 time-loss injuries per 100 covered workers and new time-loss claims fell 12%.
  • Musculoskeletal injuries made up 63% of all claims, 27% of which were back injuries.
  • The average age of those injured at work is 43 years.

Source: Workers' Compensation Board of Nova Scotia, Custom Request

Workplace COVID-19 Cases by Location

  • In all, 45 Nova Scotia workers contracted COVID-19 at their place of work in 2020.
  • The vast majority were from the health and social services sectors.

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