Number of Alberta workers collecting EI spikes

WATCH: The Jobless numbers continue to grow in Calgary, and behind the numbers are the people affected. Mia Sosiak takes a closer look.

The ranks of jobless workers receiving unemployment benefits are swelling in regions now coming to grips with a plunge in global oil prices.

Statistics Canada said Thursday the number of people getting EI, or employment insurance benefits, rose to 517,900 in March — up 2,600 from the same month last year and the first year-over-year increase since February 2010.

Alberta, the epicentre of the country’s economically important energy sector, was hardest hit, with the number of people receiving EI benefits in March, rising by 8.9 per cent or just under 3,500 people to 38,800. It was the second biggest jump in the number of recipients since June 2009 amid the last recession when oil prices had similarly plunged.

It was also the fifth consecutive monthly increase for Alberta, which has seen energy firms halt or scale back development of oil and gas projects and eliminate jobs in recent months as world oil prices have fallen by roughly 50 per cent.

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‘Needed context’

The jump means roughly 1.6 per cent of Alberta’s labour force were EI recipients in March, according ATB Financial economist Todd Hirsch, a figure that’s still well below the 2.7 per cent national average, according to Statistics Canada.

That piece of data should provide some “well-needed context” for those worried about the “huge spike” in claims in the province, Hirsch said on Twitter.

MORE: Oil and gas industry could shed 185K jobs this year, report warns

Other regions

EI claims are also rising in other resource dependent regions. Saskatchewan had the second-biggest increase between February and March, with the number of people getting EI benefits up 3.8 per cent to 12,300.

Other increases were recorded in Nova Scotia (up 2.8 per cent to 28,400), Newfoundland and Labrador (up 2.2 per cent to 32,900) and Manitoba (up two per cent to 13,900).

British Columbia, Prince Edward Island and Ontario had smaller increases, New Brunswick had little change and Quebec saw the number of EI beneficiaries drop by 1.5 per cent from February.

Financial troubles

The strain on households caused by dramatically lower oil prices—that are expected to remain low for at least the balance of the year—is manifesting in other ways.

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A report from CIBC published earlier this week showed that personal bankruptcies have turned up for the first time since the recession.

Personal bankruptcies in Alberta rose by 6.5 per cent in the six months up to the end of February, the report said. In Saskatchewan and Manitoba, the cumulative number was up 11 per cent.

“The damage from lower oil prices is starting to show,” CIBC economist Benjamin Tal said.

— with files from Canadian Press

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