08/01/2017 12:19 EDT | Updated 08/02/2017 11:45 EDT

On Jobs, Canada’s Metropolitan Areas Outperform Their U.S. Peers

That's true both for large metros like Toronto and Vancouver, and also for smaller metros like Edmonton, St. John's, and Saskatoon."


"No jobs north of 38 degrees latitude," tweeted Bloomberg contributor Conor Sen. (He was referring to a USA Today story on America's best cities for job seekers). While that's absolutely true for the continental United States, it's certainly not the case for Canada. In fact, Canadian metropolitan areas have significantly outperformed their U.S. peers on jobs since the turn of the new millennium. That's true both for large metros like Toronto and Vancouver, and also for smaller metros like Edmonton, St. John's, and Saskatoon, where job performance is similar to booming American Sunbelt cities.

The analysis, that I conducted with colleagues at the University of Toronto'sMartin Prosperity Institute, is based on comparative data provided by the labour market information firm Emsi. Our analysis compared job growth in 222 metros in the two countries which had 100,000 jobs as of 2016, 203 of them in the U.S., 91 per cent of the total, and 19 or nine per cent in Canada. We also looked at job change during the more recent post-crisis and recovery period 2012-2016.

Martin Prosperity Institute

Between 2001 and 2016, a relatively small number of metros (20 total or nine per cent) saw high rates of job growth of more than two per cent per year. But within this group, Canadian metros significantly outperformed their U.S. counterparts. Nearly a third of Canada's metros fell into this high-job-growth group, compared to just seven per cent of the US metros. Job growth in Edmonton and Calgary were on par with Austin, while job growth in Vancouver, St. John's, and Saskatoon bested Raleigh-Durham in the North Carolina Research Triangle.

Canadian and U.S. metros with similar growth, 2001-2016

Martin Prosperity Institute

An even greater percentage of Canadian metros posted modest job growth compared to their American counterparts. A quarter of all metros saw annual job growth between one and two per cent across the two nations. But, almost half of Canadian metros were part of this group, whereas only a quarter of American metros made the cut. Where U.S. rustbelt metros have experienced slow growth rates or even decline, job growth in Canadian metros around the Great Lakes rivalled that of America's high-flying Sunbelt metros. Toronto's annual rate of job growth was comparable to Houston; Kitchener-Waterloo's annualized job growth was comparable to Dallas; and Hamilton had job growth comparable to Phoenix.

Canadian metros were significantly less likely to see slow annual job growth of between zero and one per cent over this period. Just under half of all metros across the two countries fell into this category. But more than half of American metros experienced slow job growth compared to just three in Canada. Montreal's rate of job growth was similar to Washington D.C., and Halifax topped San Francisco and New York.

Overall, slightly less than a fifth of metros saw job losses over this period. But this list includes just one metro in Canada, Windsor, compared to 40 in U.S. (almost 20 per cent) mainly in the Rustbelt.

Canadian and U.S. job growth after the Great Recession

While Canadian metros were the clear winners in job growth over the past decade and a half, the pattern has changed somewhat during the more recent post-economic crisis recovery spanning 2012 and 2016. More metros overall posted job gains over this period, and U.S. metros in particular performed better relative to their Canadian counterparts. The economic crisis hit harder at the U.S. economy and U.S. metros thus experienced greater job gains as they rebounded from the crisis. Even so, Vancouver posted better job gains than Houston and Toronto outperformed Los Angeles and New York. Not a single Canadian metro lost jobs over this period, while 13 U.S. metros did.

Martin Prosperity Institute

Now a much larger group of metros across the two nations — almost a third — saw job growth of more than two per cent per year, compared to less than 10 per cent for the broader period. This group of high-job-growth metros includes just two Canadian metros — Vancouver and Victoria — compared to a third of U.S. metros.

A larger share of Canadian metros (40 per cent) saw modest job gains of one to two per cent a year compared to roughly a third of U.S. metros. Toronto's job growth was similar to Los Angeles and better than Boston's, or New York's, and San Diego's. Overall, a larger share of metros (37.4 per cent) across the two nations experienced modest job gains compared to roughly a quarter for the broader period.

Roughly half of Canadian metros experienced slow annual job growth of between zero and one per cent compared to less than a quarter of U.S. metros. This group includes Edmonton, Quebec City, Montreal, and Halifax. Overall, roughly a quarter of metros fell into the slow job growth category in wake of the economic crisis and recovery, compared to almost half for the broader period.

Aaron Harris / Reuters
A woman walks through the 2014 Spring National Job Fair and Training Expo in Toronto, Ont. April 3, 2014.

Job growth remains uneven or "spiky" across both Canada and the U.S.. Over the past 15 years, less than 10 per cent of metros have seen annual growth of two per cent or more. More disturbingly, nearly a fifth of cities in the two countries actually lost jobs over this period, with job losses heavily concentrated in hard-hit American Rustbelt. That said, it is a mistake to equate job loss with geographic location. Over this same period, Toronto's job performance was on pace with Houston's and many smaller Canadian "Rustbelt" metros also registered impressive job gains. While job performance in American metros improved after the Great Recession, jobs gains continue to be uneven.

As economic inequality — the gap between rich and poor — has grown, so too has geographic inequality: the divide between cities. Talent, jobs, and economic success have concentrated in a relatively small number of metros, something I call "winner-take-all urbanism," while other cities and metro areas fall further behind.

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