Manitoba lost 6,600 jobs in December, according to the latest Statistics Canada labour force survey.

It’s the second straight month of job losses as the province’s economy continues to feel the pandemic pinch.

“The direction in which the job numbers suggest the economy is heading is not encouraging,” said Fletcher Barager, associate professor of economics at the University of Manitoba.

Manitoba’s job losses are in line with national trends, with employment falling by 63,000 across Canada in December 2020, the first national drop since April 2020.

With December’s job losses the province’s unemployment rate sits at 8.2 per cent, behind the national unemployment rate (8.4 per cent) but still a significant jump since November’s 7.4 per cent unemployment rate.

Code red restrictions, imposed province-wide in early November, are largely seen as the reason for the economic slow-down, said Barager.

Barager points out two segments of the labour force were hit hardest by job losses in December, as unemployment rates in Manitoba are highest among workers aged 15 to 24 and among female workers over the age of 25.

“We can basically say out of those 6,600 jobs that were lost between mid-November and mid-December, they were almost exclusively borne by women and workers under the age of 25,” said Barager.

Compared to pre-COVID levels, employment in Manitoba is 5.8 per cent below where it was in February 2020. That’s the lowest in Canada, according to Statistics Canada.

Not all industries are being affected equally.

Some sectors, like construction and real estate, saw job gains in the last month.

Accommodation and food services saw losses, continuing a negative trend that continues to hurt Manitoba’s restaurant industry.

Between December 2019 and December 2020, the food services industry lost 18,000 jobs.

Missing out on the recent holiday season - a busy time for the industry - now puts many restaurants on unsure footing heading into the new year, Shaun Jeffrey, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Food Services Association, said.

“Usually the increase is about 15 to 20 per cent in labour dollars that would normally be increased during the holiday season,” said Jeffrey. “It’s a significant decline and we continue to see these declines now because we’re heading into one of the slowest times of year for our industry.”

Many retailers are in the same position, said Colin Fast, director of policy with the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, adding that it may not be as easy as removing code red restrictions before we see a full economic recovery.

“We’ve seen significant changes in consumer activity since the pandemic began," said Fast.

“People are getting used to ordering online or getting delivery instead of eating at a restaurant. I think we need to see how long it takes for those habits to go back to normal or if they are at all.”

There are some glimmers of economic hope on the horizon.

Carrie Freestone, an economist at RBC, points out the role “pent up demand” will play in Manitoba’s (and Canada’s) economic recovery.

Much like it sounds, “pent up demand” refers to an uptick in consumer spending once all sectors of the economy open up, such as purchasing concert tickets.

Freestone also predicts Manitoba will be one of two provinces to outpace pre-COVID economy output before the end of the year.

“Part of that is just because the initial onset of the contraction was less severe,” said Freestone, pointing out that the first lockdown in Spring 2020 came into effect later and didn’t last as long compared to other provinces.

"We saw retail sales surge in May and June in Manitoba whereas in other provinces a lot of the sectors were still locked down," she said. “The magnitude of the hit was much less severe.”

Freestone adds that a 17 per cent increase in infrastructure investment by the Manitoba government will also contribute to the province’s economic recovery.

“Obviously we saw that employment numbers were hit pretty hard in November and December but nevertheless we do predict Manitoba will fare significantly better,” she said.