The unemployment rate in New Brunswick rose to 8.4 per cent in December as employment decreased by 3,100, according to the latest labour force survey released by Statistics Canada Friday.

The change was a small one, the report said, noting the unemployment rate rose by 0.5 percentage points. But overall, after little change in 2017, employment in New Brunswick fell by 5,100 (-1.4%) last year. The province’s labour force also shrank by 1,200 workers, from 385,000 in November to 383,800 in December.

“The employment trend-cycle in the province has been relatively steady since the autumn of 2016,” the report said.

In Moncton, the labour force increased 0.7 per cent from November to December, and 1.2 per cent year-on-year. Employment also increased 0.9 per cent in December and rose 1.9 per cent since December 2017. Unemployment has fallen 8.2 per cent since December 2017.

Meanwhile, in Saint John, the labour force also increased slightly – by 0.1 per cent in December. Employment saw a 2.5 per cent rise year-over-year, but from November to December, it fell 0.5 per cent. Unemployment increased 7.3 per cent since December 2017.

Nationally, the unemployment rate for the year fell to 5.6 per cent – the lowest in 43 years. In the year to December, employment rose by 163,000, entirely driven by a 185,000 gain in full-time jobs, the survey said.

The service industries, including healthcare and social assistance, educational services, transportation and warehousing, and business, building and other support services, were the biggest contributor to employment gains. On the other hand, employment dropped in wholesale and retail trade; information, culture and recreation; manufacturing; and finance, insurance, real estate, rental and leasing.

Private sector employees also increased by 101,000 in 2018 and self-employment rose, while public sector employment saw little change. Employment in natural resources remained steady in 2018 after gains in 2017.

But even as the job market tightened over the past year, the data indicates wage growth continued to show weakness in December.
Year-over-year average hourly wage growth for permanent employees was 1.49 per cent, a slight increase from 1.46 per cent in November, but still much lower than its peak of 3.9 per cent in May.

Experts have been expecting wages to increase as more people find work. But the sharp deceleration since mid-2018 is seen as a good reason for the Bank of Canada to wait longer before raising interesting rates.

The Bank of Canada has been watching wage growth ahead of its rate decisions as it tries to determine how well-indebted households can absorb higher borrowing costs.

“We suspect that behind the scenes, the Bank of Canada is also a bit puzzled by the combination of healthy trend employment gains and decelerating wages,” TD senior economist Brian DePratto wrote in a note to clients Friday.

“Without bottom-up wage pressure, further monetary tightening is clearly not urgent.”

With files from The Canadian Press.