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'Unprecedented': Pain of coronavirus shutdowns now seen in B.C.'s stark job loss numbers

Last Updated May 8, 2020 at 1:08 pm PDT


B.C. shed more than 260,000 jobs in April amid the COVID-19 pandemic

Restrictions have hit hospitality sector hard, B.C.'s finance minister says, adding impacts will be felt long after

Nationally, the unemployment rate rose to 13 per cent -- the second highest it's ever been

VICTORIA (NEWS 1130) – B.C. shed more than 260,000 jobs last month as the pain of COVID-19 restrictions continues to be felt across Canada.

Finance Minister Carole James says what’s been happening over the last two months is unlike anything we’ve seen before.

“The job stats give us a clear picture of the severe impacts we’re seeing on people and our economy,” she explains. “During the month of April, B.C.’s unemployment rate was 11.5 per cent. That is the result of 264,100 jobs being lost — an unprecedented number.”

That figure compares to an unemployment rate of five per cent in February. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, James says B.C. lost 396,500 jobs in March and April.

“And let’s remember, those jobs are people. They’re families. They’re businesses who’ve been impacted severely.”

In February, the unemployment rate was five per cent in B.C., “leading the country when it came to employment,” James adds.

The job numbers released on Friday show the retail and food services sectors have been the most impacted by the pandemic, with James explaining a total of 47 per cent of job losses between March and April were in these industries.

She points out the hospitality sector, including hotels, restaurants, and resorts, is also taking a big hit, admitting those hurt in these areas won’t feel relief any time soon.

“We are impacted by what happens globally, what happens to trade, whether we still see travel restrictions — those all have an impact on British Columbia,” she explains.

Some possible solutions to help these hurt industries, she says, includes encouraging people to vacation at local destinations when restrictions lift. However, she notes that won’t solve the whole problem.

“I don’t think it’s going to be an easy road ahead over the next year. Certainly, with international travel, it looks like it’s not coming back over the next year. That’s going to be a real challenge.”

James also says the unemployment numbers over March and April don’t show show the whole picture because people who were looking for work, who would have had no jobs to look for, are not captured in these numbers.

As for allocating the $1.5 billion already set aside for economic recovery efforts, she says work is being done to see which sectors need it most, and where it can do the most good.

James believes it will likely take years to undo the damage that has been done in mere months.

Earlier this week, the province unveiled its plan to restart the economy through a phased approach.

On whether this will be the worst of it, James says it’s hard to say.

“I certainly don’t have a crystal ball, I’m afraid. But, I think now that we’ve started our gradual restart on the economy, we will be watching, very carefully, the months of May and June. I think they’ll be key to see as businesses start up, as we start seeing people, hopefully, going back to being employed. We’ll have a better sense of what we’re looking at.”

Related video: Reopening B.C.’s economy

She adds there will be a “hard road ahead.”

Nationally, the unemployment rate rose to 13 per cent — the second highest it’s ever been — with nearly two million jobs being shed in April.

-With files from Paul James