There was some positive news for the Nova Scotia economy in Friday’s release of the Labour Force Survey (LFS) from Statistics Canada. The increase in employment that began last December continued last month, with employment up nearly 10,000 from October 2017. However, any celebration of the job growth should be tempered by an earlier report from Statscan – last week’s Survey of Employment, Payroll and Hours. That survey, which provides a lot more detail than the LFS, reveals a couple of trends that could provide grist for the mill for critics of the Nova Scotia government’s approach on two fronts – the minimum wage and the film industry.
On wages, the survey shows that earnings growth in Nova Scotia continues to lag behind most other provinces. In August, the most recent month reported, Nova Scotia had the third lowest gain in average weekly earnings, ahead of only Newfoundland and Saskatchewan. (Those provinces are both still recovering from the drop in oil prices, but their wage levels remain roughly 15 per cent higher than Nova Scotia’s).
Nova Scotia’s average weekly earnings in August 2018 were up less than $10 a week from a year earlier, a gain of just 1.1 per cent. Nationally, the August-to-August increase was nearly $30, for an increase of 2.9 per cent. Table 1 shows, in descending order, the August-to-August change in average weekly wages.
|Aug. 2017||Aug. 2018||Change %|
Statistics Canada Table 14-10-0223-01
As can be seen from the table, Nova Scotia solidified its status as a low-wage province, with the gap between it and eighth-ranked New Brunswick widening and the advantage over perennial last place P.E.I dropping from $51.52 to $30.67.
August was no aberration. Since the beginning of 2018, monthly increases from 2017 have ranged from a low of zero to a high of 2.7 per cent, including 1.0 per cent in June and 1.1 per cent in July. Meanwhile, in September, the consumer price index was up 1.7 per cent from September, 2017, meaning that on average, employees are worse off.
Cultural industries hurting
On the employment side, the payroll survey report showed some modest growth in jobs. But there was one big exception. Payroll employment in Information and Cultural (IC) industries, which include film and video, fell dramatically in August from a year earlier. The number of employees in Information and Cultural industries declined by over 15 per cent from August 2017 to the same month in 2018. There were 8,726 people employed in the sector in August 2017 and 7,402 in August of this year. That’s a loss of 1,342 jobs and, as will be seen in Table 2 below, August was the least bad month so far this year. Average annual employment in IC has been in decline since 2015 and has really nosedived over the first eight months of 2018, as Table 2 shows.
Table 2:Change in employment by month
While the dismal job numbers would not likely surprise industry people who have felt directly the impact of the McNeil government’s misguided approach to the film industry, the fact they are coming from an unbiased source like Statistics Canada should add weight to demands for policy change.
Average weekly wages in the embattled sector are also down for the first eight months of 2018, dropping from $1,149 to $1,098 per week even as wages increased nationally. As a result, Nova Scotia wages for those working in the IC industries, which were at 93 per cent of the national average in August 2015, were at 87 per cent this August.
Information and Cultural industries include more than film and video – the category also encompasses publishing, broadcasting and telecommunications. For yearly reporting purposes, Statscan adds in employment levels in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector. In a February, 2017 post I pointed out that from 2014 to 2016, 3,000 jobs were lost in Information, Culture and Recreation industries, the largest percentage job loss (15.6 per cent) in any industry sector over that period.
Around the same time, the Department of Communities Culture and Heritage launched, with some fanfare, what was billed as Nova Scotia’s first Culture Action Plan. But Statscan reported the loss of another 200 jobs in the sector for 2017, and with the losses so far in 2018 it seems pretty clear that the Action Plan is not working.