VANCOUVER -- For the first time since last June, unemployment climbed slightly in B.C. despite months of economic recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Statistics Canada's monthly labour force survey released Friday, B.C.'s unemployment rate was at 7.2 per cent in December – up from 7.1 per cent the month before. Nationwide, the rate was 8.6 per cent, up from 8.5.

The province saw six months of steady improvement in unemployment figures, after reaching a high of 13.4 per cent in May. Officials connected that high figure to economic slowdown from the province's COVID-19 response, and it gradually decreased as businesses reopened. 

More locally, however, some B.C. cities saw improvements in December:

  • Vancouver 7.4 per cent (down from 8.1)
  • Victoria 5.8 per cent (down from 6.3)
  • Kelowna 4.5 per cent (down from 4.7)

But Abbotsford-Mission saw its unemployment rate climb slightly last month. In November, the region's rate was 8.1 per cent, but in December, it rose to 8.4 per cent.

In spite of the minor increase in overall unemployment, B.C.'s economy added 3,800 jobs last month. About 24,000 jobs were created, but that was offset by about 20,000 part-time jobs being lost.

"B.C.'s total employment has now bounced back to 98.7 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, but certain sectors like tourism and hospitality are still struggling. We are also seeing disproportionate impacts on people of colour who are both business owners and employees," said Ravi Kahlon, B.C.'s minister of jobs, economy, recovery and innovation, in a news release.

"There is reason for hope in the long term as independent economists predict B.C. will lead all provinces with the highest gross domestic product growth in 2021 and the lowest unemployment – but only if we are successful in bending the curve and reducing transmission."

In February – before a state of emergency was declared in the province – B.C.'s unemployment rate was five per cent.

With files from The Canadian Press