On 1 June 1931, census day, Canada was in the midst of the brutal Great Depression and reflected it in the census. In 1921 the right-hand census columns were headed PROFESSION, OCCUPATION AND EMPLOYMENT, in 1931 simply UNEMPLOYMENT.
With drought and the general economic depression the Prairie economy was particularly hard hit. In 50 rows of one census form, for Kindersley, Sask, picked at random, I found nine out of 23 men of working age had the notation “No Job” in column 33. That’s a nearly 40% unemployment rate.
A quick scan of some census pages from Essex East, Ontario, found pages with even more “No Job” notations, and not just for labourers but also for people like a baker and motor mechanic. You will also find the notation “Laid Off” as well as “Illness”
Your ancestors may have been fortunate, those with a steady income even benefitted from depressed prices, but their community sufferred. Once you find your ancestor in the census check out the situation of the neighbours.
Read some first hand recollections here, remembering it’s the extremes that get attention, or delve into a local newspaper archive.