By Kate Wright
Times & Transcript Staff

New Brunswick’s employment rate hit a 30-year record high last month, with baby boomers making significant gains in the province’s workforce. Last month, 363,000 New Brunswickers held jobs, up by 4,000 jobs from April 2006, according to Statistics Canada. That represents an employment rate of almost 60 per cent.

Workers 55-years and older held 51,000 jobs last month, up 5,000 jobs from the same time last year.

Samuel LeBreton, a senior economist with Service Canada, said older workers have continued to climb in numbers over the past few years. He said this is likely a reflection of a labour market shortage in the province and older workers taking advantage of job opportunities. Despite their lower labour force participation rates, half of the overall employment growth this year has come from older workers.

“People are getting back into the workforce after they may have retired and have now come back doing something else,” he said. “It’s a trend we’re starting to see more and more.” LeBreton said gains in this sector aren’t at the expense of another demographic. He said the boom is a reflection of slowing birth rates in the province and not a mass upheaval of young workers.

The province’s unemployment rate dropped, hitting a low of 7.3 per cent or 28,000 without jobs.

This is the second lowest the province’s unemployment rate has been since 1976.

Statistics Canada spokesman Vincent Ferrao said compared to the national average, New Brunswick’s figures were “significantly stronger” than other parts of the country.

Over the past four months, Ferrao said the province’s workforce has grown primarily in the food service and accommodation industry, which is up by 3,600 employees.

The manufacturing industry added 2,300 employees, with natural resources and the education sector up by 1,700 and 1,300 workers, respectively.

Ferrao said the low unemployment rate means that more New Brunswickers have found work, but the figure also reflects the growing labour market shortage in the province.

Within New Brunswick, Metro Moncton is still leading the province in jobs, despite a slight decrease in work from this time last year.

There are now 64,600 Monctonians holding jobs, down 3,000 from April 2006.

The unemployment rate also dropped, from 5,900 unemployed to 3,700.

In Saint John, there were 800 more jobs, up from 62,300 workers last spring. Over 1,000 people found work, bringing the unemployment rate to 4.4 per cent.

In Fredericton, there were 5,000 new workers joining the workforce. The unemployment rate dropped, with over 1,000 people finding work.

Despite the slight cool-off in Metro’s workforce, LeBreton said Monctonians shouldn’t be alarmed.

He said the decline is natural after three or four years of unprecedented growth in the hub city.

“It’s levelling out as the population in Moncton is growing steadily and very fast,” he said. “There’s a limit to what the economy can do to absorb everyone in the area. It’s not bad – it’s just a bit of a slow down.” Charles Cirtwill, acting president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, said investments in the energy and trade sectors are having major payoffs in the province and adding economic spin-offs.

“What we don’t realize when trade comes through the region is that jobs get created – people are working the dock, driving the trucks,” he said. “People are working and there are demands for those skills.” Cirtwill said Moncton is now in a favourable position to take advantage of the major economic booms that have been strong over the past few years.

Post-Secondary Education, Training and Labour Minister Ed Doherty said yesterday that he is “delighted” with the high employment rate and that the provincial government will continue to look at employment programs for seniors, women and other under-represented groups.