Environmental Scan - British Columbia
B.C.'s labour force increased slightly in 2021 despite the lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of 2021, recovery for most industries was strong. Indeed, employment across the province increased by 2.1% from February 2020 to December 2021. As the province begins a transition away from public health restrictions aimed at limiting the spread of the virus, British Columbia is forecast to experience robust GDP growth in the short term.
Graphic: GDP forecasts for Canada: 3-year average annual growth rates, 2021-2023
|Region||Growth rate, 2021-2023|
|Newfoundland and Labrador||2.8%|
|Prince Edward Island||3.9%|
B.C.'s diversified economy helped cushion the Province from the negative impacts that the global pandemic had on international trade. Nevertheless, the pandemic crippled global supply chains and B.C.'s exports declined by roughly 8.3% in 2020. Exports from B.C. rebounded in 2021 as the province's international merchandise exports increased 34%. Improvements to the province's trade balance are largely attributed to an increase in the value of energy product exports, namely coal and natural gas. Meanwhile, Canada's trade relations with the U.S. improved somewhat as the U.S. announced a reduction of countervailing and anti-dumping duty rates on Canadian softwood. The new rates will be set at 11.6% for the majority of Canadian producers, down from the previous rate of 17.9%.
Graphic: B.C.'s top 10 export markets. B.C. exported $54.8 billion worth of goods to 203 countries in 2021.
|Country||% share of exports|
Labour Market Conditions
The impacts from COVID-19 on B.C.'s labour market continued into 2021, and many British Columbians remain unemployed due to the uncertainty the pandemic has created in some industries. Nonetheless, B.C.'s unemployment rate improved 1.8 pp from 2020 levels, achieving 6.5% in 2021.
Indeed, employment in most industries recovered as vaccinations increased and provincial regulations eased by the fall of 2021. Nevertheless, the province's participation rate has yet to return to pre-pandemic levels, down -0.7 pp in 2021.
- 2021 Unemployment rate: 6.5%; +1.8 percentage points over 2019
- 2021 Employment rate: 61.1%; -1.8 percentage points over 2019
- 2021 Participation rate: 65.3%; -0.7 percentage points over 2019
- COVID-19 continued to take a toll on the province's overall goods producing sector, and employment had yet recovered from the initial impacts of the pandemic. However, employment in B.C.'s services sector grew by 8.1% in 2021.
- The construction industry had yet to fully recover from the pandemic, as roughly 5,800 fewer people were working in 2021 from the year prior. As a whole, employment in construction is down nearly 14% from pre-pandemic levels.
- Despite improvements to employment levels in the services sector, the pandemic gravely impacted the industries that predominantly employ people in face-to-face occupations. For instance, the accommodations and food services industry, after being forced to layoff much of its workforce, is now experiencing a labour shortage. This is due in part to people wishing to avoid uncertainty and finding work in other industries.
Graphic: Employment gains and losses, 2019 to 2021
|Industry||Change in employment from 2019 to 2021|
|Health care and social assistance||+25,200|
|Professional, scientific and technical services||+24,000|
|Wholesale and retail trade||+4,000|
|Finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing||+2,600|
|Forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, oil and gas||+1,100|
|Information, culture and recreation||-6,300|
|Transportation and warehousing||-7,700|
|Business, building and other support services||-8,100|
|Other services (except public administration)||-14,300|
|Accommodation and food services||-26,200|
Regional Economic Conditions
- Employment grew in all the economic regions in 2021 while remaining below pre-pandemic levels in most regions. Indeed, falling COVID 19 infections and easing of restrictions gradually supported the province's economic recovery. However, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 remained a concern.
- The Lower Mainland – Southwest led the province's recovery, as employment increased by 8.3% (+130,600) in 2021. Employment may be affected in the short term by flooding in the Fraser Valley, which caused extensive damage to several communities and transportation corridors.
- Employment in Thompson – Okanagan improved in 2021 (+6,400), and the unemployment rate fell to 5.9%. However, the region's summer tourism season was hampered by the pandemic and several wildfires in the Okanagan Valley.
Graphic: Employment growth, 2019 to 2021
|Economic Region||Employment growth from 2019 to 2021|
|Vancouver Island and Coast||+0.0%|
|North Coast and Nechako||-3.1%|
Through the pandemic, inter-provincial migration to B.C. increased. The number of people relocating from other areas of the country was up by nearly 17% in 2020/21 compared to 2019/2020.
B.C.'s estimated population surpassed 5.2M people on July 1, 2021—an increase of roughly 56,000 people year-over-year. Immigration to B.C. declined (-23.3% or -10,420) as the negative worldwide impacts of the pandemic continued into 2021.
Graphic: Inter-provincial migration from 2016/17 to 2020/21, where 297,384 people migrated into B.C. and 199,960 people left the province during this period
Graphic: Population estimates
- 2020 British Columbia population: 5,158,728
- 2040 population projection: 6,469,700
|Age group||% share of population, 2020||% share of population, 2040|
The legacy of Canada's Residential Schools has contributed to the historical employment gaps between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in B.C. The gaps worsened at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, showed signs of improving in the final quarter of 2021. Indigenous employment increased 12.8% annually in 2021, and finished the year 1.8% above the pre-pandemic levels of 2019. The Indigenous participation rate also improved as a relaxation of public health restrictions in various industries encouraged many to enter the workforce.
Graphic: Unemployment and participation rates (2021)
|Identity||Unemployment rate||Participation rate|
The COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected newcomers' (landed immigrants 0-5 years) employment in B.C. Newcomers accounted for a significant number of job losses in the province. Compared to 2019, roughly 5,400 fewer newcomers (-4.3%) in the province were working by 2021.
Over the past two years, key employers for immigrants, in retail, manufacturing, and accommodations and food services were among those negatively impacted by the pandemic.
Graphic: Landed immigrant unemployment rates by time lived in British Columbia (2021)
|Time lived||Unemployment rate|
The labour market for youth was disproportionately impacted by public health measures meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Between February and April 2020, youth employment quickly dropped a shocking 36.3% (-126,400 jobs). Employment opportunities have since improved with increased vaccinations, and the youth unemployment rate for December 2021 dropped 2.9 percentage points below what it was a year ago, as more young people were able to find work (+38,700).
Graphic: Unemployment rates (2021)
|Age group||Unemployment rate|
Employment losses among older workers during the pandemic were less severe than other age groups. This is due to the fact that older workers accounted for a very small proportion of employment in the industries most affected by public health restrictions and closures. Employment has returned to pre-pandemic levels, and the unemployment rate was at 5.9% as of December 2021.
Graphic: Unemployment rates (2021)
|Age group||Unemployment rate|
Black, Indigenous and People of Colour individuals make up 36.2% of the population in B.C., almost ten percentage points more than the national average (27.1%). Chinese people are the largest group of racialized Canadians in the province, representing 11.2% of the total population. B.C. also has a significantly larger proportion of South Asian residents (8.0%) than the national average (5.6%). Indigenous people are the third largest ethnic group, representing 5.9% of B.C.'s total population.
Graphic: Proportion of total population (2016 Census)
|Ethnic group||British Columbia||Canada|
People with Disabilities
According to the 2017 Canadian Survey on Disability, almost 25% of British Columbians over the age of 15 identify as having a disability, a higher proportion than the national average (22.3%). People with disabilities also represent a significant portion of B.C.'s available labour pool. In 2017, persons with disabilities comprised over 18% of the provincial labour force aged 25 to 64. In addition, people with disabilities in B.C. have a substantially higher unemployment rate than those without disabilities.
Graphic: Unemployment and employment rates (2017 Canadian Survey on Disability)
|Unemployment rate||Employment rate|
|People with disabilities||8.4%||60.4%|
|People without disabilities||4.5%||80.3%|
Prepared by: Labour Market Information (LMI) Directorate, Service Canada, Western Canada and Territories Region
For further information, please contact the LMI team
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