Economy and work
Unemployment rate by gender and age
Hamilton’s unemployment rate in February 2021 was 7.0%, vastly improved over 12.4%, in April 2020 but higher than the 4.3% pre-pandemic rate. Hamiltonians ages 15-24 had much higher unemployment rates over the last year, peaking at 33% for women and 28% for men in July 2020, before returning to 12.0% overall in February 2021. More women than men left the labour force entirely during the pandemic; women’s participation rates dropped to 59.5% in September 2020 from 63.5% pre-pandemic, while for men, rates remained consistent (68.5%) over that period.1
Employment status for Indigenous and racialized populations
In August 2020 (the most recent information available), Indigenous people living off reserve in Ontario had higher unemployment rates than non-Indigenous people (16.8% compared to 11.2%) and lower rates of participation in the labour force (52% compared to 58%).2 In January 2021, Ontario labour force participants with racialized backgrounds (Southeast Asian: 20.1%, Latin American: 16.6%, Black: 16.4%, Chinese: 11%) had higher unemployment rates than non-racialized groups (9.3%). Indigenous and racialized people were also more likely to work in sectors that experienced the most job losses. New Statistics Canada evidence suggests the unemployment rate grew faster for visible minority groups than for non-visible minority groups during the pandemic.3
Number of jobs by sector
In Hamilton, a survey of approximately 1,500 local businesses reported the pandemic’s significant impact on all economic sectors. It identified total job losses of 14.5% (8,000 of 54,000 jobs) with accommodation/food services and arts/recreation both reporting job losses of over 50%. Some 80% of businesses had revenue decreases in 2020; 25% of businesses reported losses of over 50% compared with the prior year.4
These trends were similar across Ontario, where over 355,000 jobs were lost in 2020, the biggest annual employment loss on record. Provincial accommodation and food services accounted for nearly one-third of all job losses (110,000), while retail trade accounted for an additional 50,000.5 For jobs that were retained, the total hours worked in 2020 fell by 9% compared to 2019, the largest amount on record. Recovery has been uneven across sectors: the total number of jobs in the finance/real estate, professional/scientific and manufacturing sectors now exceed pre-pandemic levels.6
Number and value of building permits
The total value of building permits was the same in 2020 at $1.4 billion as it was in 2019. The City has exceeded the $1 billion level in 10 out of the 11 past years. In 2020, residential building accounted for 69% of the permits, while the industrial sector was 17%, commercial was 11%, and institutional made up 3%.7
Number of business licenses
Citizens or companies who are interested in starting a new business need to apply to the City of Hamilton for a business license. The number of applications for new business licenses fell by 50% to 350 in 2020 from 700 in 2019. The average wait for a license stayed the same at 45 days.8
 Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey, Monthly Summaries.
 Statistics Canada, Labour Market Impacts of Covid on Indigenous People, March – Aug 2020.
 Statistics Canada, The Daily February 2021, Special Report on Black Canadian Workers.
 City of Hamilton (2021). Planning and Economic Development. Business Impact & Workforce Needs Survey.
 Province of Ontario (2021). Financial Accountability Office. Ontario’s Labour Market in 2020.
 Government of Canada, 2021. 2020: A Year in Review.
 City of Hamilton (2021). Planning and Economic Development Annual Budget Report. Presented Jan 26, 2021.