OTTAWA — Canada's unemployment rate dropped to 6.6 per cent last month, its lowest level in more than two years, as fewer people were looking for work, Statistics Canada said Friday.
Several economists were quick to hail the numbers as a sign that Canada's economy is on the mend, though at least one questioned the survey's findings of a massive swing toward full-time employment at the expense of part-time jobs.
The decline of 0.2 percentage points from the previous month brought the rate down to a number not seen since January 2015.
The agency's February employment survey indicated the national labour market added 15,300 jobs overall last month, higher than analyst expectations.
February job gains from full-time work
Economists had projected a gain of 2,500 jobs and the unemployment rate to stay at 6.8 per cent, according to Thomson Reuters.
"This continues the string of improving Canadian economic data and suggests that the underlying economy continues to gain steam,'' said BMO senior economist Benjamin Reitzes in a note to clients. ``One more piece of evidence that the Canadian economy has turned the corner.''
The Statistics Canada report found most of the February job gains came from full-time work, offset by a decline in the number of people working part-time.
It said an estimated 105,000 people found full-time employment last month while part-time positions dropped by nearly 90,000. That was in contrast to the January labour market survey, which showed a surge in part-time work.
Women ages 25 to 54 found more work
"I find this hard to believe in terms of the details,'' said Derek Holt, head of markets economics at Scotiabank Economics, who noted that the increase in full-time jobs would mark the strongest gain in almost 11 years while the part-time drop would represent the biggest decline since Statistics Canada began its labour force survey in 1976.
While the monthly employment numbers are typically volatile, Statistics Canada said that, in the 12 months to February, Canada saw a net gain of 288,000 jobs with most of the increase coming in the last six months of 2016.
Much of the increased job activity was seen in the West with British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba all seeing gains. In contrast, fewer people were working in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador while employment was little changed in the other five provinces.
Women in the 25-to-54 age bracket saw more work, marking the third monthly increase in that category. Men in the same age range saw employment holding steady in February after a notable increase the previous month.
Little change to youth employment
Employment among youth aged 15 to 24 was little changed both in February and on a year-over-year basis. But with fewer young people seeking jobs, their unemployment rated declined by 0.9 percentage points to 12.4 per cent.
The data release came as Statistics Canada encountered problems releasing the data on its website. As of 10 a.m. ET, 90 minutes after the figures were released, its website was down. Agency officials were unable to say why the site had been down for most of the night but said they hoped the technical issued could be resolved quickly.