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For many Canadian workers, there remains a long road back from the initial economic disruption caused by the first wave of Covid-19.

However, new data from Statistics Canada shows that employment continued rising in September as the economy reopened.

Payroll employment rose by 337,500 in September, up 2.2%, following an increase of about 1.8 million since June, StatsCan said.

But payroll employment remained down 7.3% since before the pandemic emerged — that’s about 1.2 million workers.

Payroll employment increased in all provinces in September, StatsCan said, led by New Brunswick (3.3%) and PEI (3.0%). British Columbia and Ontario also recorded strong gains, up 2.5% and 2.4%, respectively.

Despite the recent gains, B.C. and Ontario, along with Alberta, remained the furthest from their pre-pandemic levels. In Alberta, payroll employment was still down 9.1%, while Ontario was down 8.5% and B.C. was down 7.9%.

The damage to employment has been particularly acute for hourly workers.

StatsCan reported that while hourly workers account for less than 60% of payroll employment, they represented about 75% of the decline in payroll employment in the first wave of Covid-19 (from February to May).

The number of workers paid by the hour was still 9.4% below its pre-pandemic level in September, representing more than 900,000 workers, compared with 225,000 salaried employees.

Sectors that have been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic, such as accommodation and food services, and arts, entertainment and recreation, have a relatively high proportion of hourly workers (88.4% and 75.7%, respectively).

In general, the services sector has suffered significantly, with payroll employment in services down 7.7% from pre-pandemic levels, compared with 5.8% for the goods-producing sector.

Given the harder initial hit in services, these sectors also led the recovery as the economy reopened.

For example, payroll employment in the services sector in September was up 2.4%, compared with 1.2% for the goods sector.

The arts, entertainment and recreation sector, and the accommodation and food services sector, are seeing the fastest growth in payroll employment — yet they remain the furthest from their pre-pandemic levels, StatsCan said.

Employment in the arts sectors remained down 31.5% in September, and it was down 25.2% in the hospitality industry. Meanwhile, the healthcare and social assistance sector is closest to its pre-pandemic level in September — down just 1.4% from February.

Within that latter sector, employment was up 3.8% since the pandemic in nursing and residential care, and up slightly in ambulatory healthcare, while daycare employment remained down 13.1% in September.

Alongside the overall increase in payroll employment, total hours worked also rose in September, up 1.6%.

“This growth brought total hours worked to 6.0% below their pre-Covid level,” StatsCan said.

Looking ahead, StatsCan is expecting future data to show softer employment gains in October, as several provinces once again tightened public health measures in response to rising Covid-19 infections.

“Unlike the widespread economic shutdown implemented in March and April, these measures were targeted at businesses where the risk of Covid transmission is thought to be greater, including indoor restaurants and bars and recreational facilities,” the agency said.