Unemployment Rate by Province

Nova Scotia’s unemployment rate rose from 7.4% in 2019 to 9.8% in 2020 due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2021, it declined to 8.4% as the province’s economy recovered.

  • Nova Scotia had the lowest unemployment rate in Atlantic Canada in 2021, and lower than Alberta, although it was higher than the remaining provinces.
  • The unemployment rate in Nova Scotia continues to be higher for males than females, even though the effects of the pandemic-induced recession hurt female employment the most.
  • Male unemployment was 9.4% in 2021, down from 10.5% in 2020 yet up from 8.5% in 2019.
  • Female unemployment was 7.3% in 2021, down from 9.0% in 2020 and up from 6.4% in 2019.


A vertical bar chart titled “Unemployment rates by province, 2021, ages 15 and over”. Vertical axis showing percentages running from 0% at the bottom in twos to 14% at the top. Horizontal axis shows a vertical blue bar for Canada and then one for each province from left to right.

Age Groups

In 2021, as Nova Scotian employment rebounded, the size of the youth labour force (aged 15 to 19) increased by 3,600 (+5.1%) to 74,100. Additionally, the unemployment rate dropped in this age group from 12.1% in 2020 to 10.0% in 2021.

The size of the youth labour force aged 20 to 24 expanded by 1,900 (+4.1%) to 48,100 in 2021. The unemployment rate for this age group dropped from 7.2% in 2020 to 5.3% in 2021.

In 2021 the 60-to-64-year age group had the largest annual increase in labour force size (+6,700, +19.4%) of any five-year age group. However, the unemployment rate in this age group rose 0.5 percentage points, from 3.8% in 2020 to 4.3% in 2021.


A vertical bar chart titled “Unemployment Rates by Age Group, 2020 and 2021, Nova Scotia”. Vertical axis shows percentages from 0% at the bottom running in increments of 5 up to 25% at the top. Horizontal axis has age groups running in increments of 5 from 15 to 19 years up to 65 years and over. Each 5 year increment has two vertical blue bars with the dark blue = 202 and medium blue = 2021. A light blue line shows the percentage for total 15 years and over.


  • In Nova Scotia, and Canada, youth (ages 15 to 24 years) tend to have the highest unemployment rates relative to other age groups. The economic recovery in 2021 led to a decline in the unemployment rate for those aged 15 to 24 from 17.2% in 2020 to 13.5% in 2021, slightly higher than the 13.3% rate seen in 2019.
  • Job gains and an increased labour force were observed among youth, core-aged (25-44) and older (55 and over) workers. The youth labour force grew by 3,600 (+5.1%) in 2021, as employment expanded by 5,700 jobs (+9.8%) and 2,100 less youth were unemployed (-17.3%).
  • The labour force among core-aged workers expanded by 6,600 (+2.2%), as employment in this group was up by 9,700 (+3.5%), and the number of unemployed fell by 3,000 (-12.1%).
  • Robust job gains were also seen among older workers, as their employment level rose by 8,500 (+8.2%) in 2021. The number of unemployed in this age group was essentially unchanged year-over-year, but employment gains outweighed an increase of 8,500 persons (+7.4%) in the labour force, resulting in a decrease in the unemployment rate (from 9.3% in 2020 to 8.7% in 2021.




Location of Study

In Nova Scotia, those with a postsecondary education (PSE) had a lower unemployment rate (7.4%) in 2016, than the provincial unemployment rate. Unemployment rates differ across different types of postsecondary education and where the PSE credential was taken.

  • Overall, those with a postsecondary education credential taken in Nova Scotia had a higher unemployment rate than those who obtained their PSE outside Nova Scotia. This trend is influenced by those who had an apprenticeship or trades certificate or diploma.
  • PSE credentials below a bachelor’s level degree that were taken in another province had higher unemployment rates than credentials taken in Nova Scotia. However, PSE credentials higher than a bachelor level degree taken in Nova Scotia had higher unemployment rates.
  • The largest positive difference in unemployment rates between PSE credentials taken in and outside Nova Scotia was between those with a degree in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, or optometry from outside of NS. Generally, this means in 2016, finding a job was easier for those who took a degree in medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine or optometry in Nova Scotia compared to those that took it outside Nova Scotia.
  • The largest negative difference was between those with a trades certificate or diploma other than a Certificate of Apprenticeship, which means generally, it was easier for those who took a Trades certificate outside Nova Scotia to find a job in Nova Scotia.
  • It is important to note, that there might be other explanations other than the location of study that might contribute to these differences.


Employment Insurance

The seasonally adjusted number of Nova Scotians receiving regular Employment Insurance (EI) benefits trended downward between January 2012 and February 2020.

The arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nova Scotia resulted in unprecedented effects on the number of unemployed and those receiving EI. Workers that were unemployed between March 15th and October 3rd, 2020, were able to claim the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) – which provided temporary financial assistance.

In the spring and summer of 2020, the difference between the number of unemployed and the number of EI beneficiaries expanded, as the number of unemployed rose and the number of EI beneficiaries declined due to many applicants being redirected to the CERB program.

As the CERB program was wound down in the fall of 2020, the criteria to claim EI was temporarily reduced to include workers not eligible in the past, such as students, youth, and occasional workers.  This was done to transition CERB recipients to EI. As a result, the number of EI beneficiaries was, unusually, higher than the number of unemployed workers from October 2020 through September 2021.

The number of unemployed overtook the number of EI recipients once again in October through December of 2021, as the temporary eligibility enhancements to EI ended. By January 2022, the number of seasonally adjusted EI recipients fell to 31,320 – approaching historical norms.


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