Calgary’s unemployment rate is now the highest in the country as residents deal with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
New numbers released by Statistics Canada on Thursday show the jobless rate in the southern Alberta city sat at 8.6 per cent in March, a sharp increase from 7.4 per cent February and the worst among the 33 metropolitan areas surveyed.
Statistics Canada also reported that full-time employment in Calgary dropped by 4,500 positions in March and part-time employment fell by 16,600 positions.
The new data also showed that accommodation, food service, professional, scientific and technical service sectors have been hit the hardest.
In Edmonton, the unemployment rate increased ever-so-slightly in March to 7.9 per cent compared with 7.8 per cent the month before.
According to Statistics Canada, unemployment rose in all provinces, with Alberta seeing unemployment spike to 8.7 per cent in March, up from 7.2 per cent the month before.
Alberta’s jobless rate is one of the highest in Canada. Only New Brunswick (8.8 per cent), Nova Scotia (9.0 per cent), and Newfoundland and Labrador (11.7 per cent) have higher provincial numbers.
Alberta lost 117,000 jobs compared with just one month earlier.
University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe said the situation in Alberta was already dire, and these latest Statistics Canada numbers only capture a snapshot of the larger economic picture.
“This is indeed the worst month in terms of employment reductions that we have ever seen in recorded history — the worst month during the great depression did not see employment drops larger than three per cent,” Tombe said.
The complex survey also found more than two-million Canadians saw a dramatic reduction in hours worked. About 1.3 million were employed but saw no hours worked, adding to the complexity of how labour markets are affected by COVID-19.
The survey was conducted during the week of March 15, before non-essential businesses were ordered closed and thousands of people were laid off.
“The numbers that we’re seeing today for March were for the week of March 15, that’s when Statistics Canada asked people about their employment situation,” Tombe said.
“So when we get the next job report in May, which will cover the first two weeks, then we will get a more complete picture of the scale and scope and depth of the COVID-19 pandemic.”
However, what differentiates this economic crisis from others is that the business shutdown is a choice, Tombe said, adding “it is a public health measure meant to slow the spread of the virus.”
Tombe warned there will be larger losses in the future, and because of the recent drop in oil prices, Alberta will see a slower recovery than the rest of the country.
Calgary Economic Development (CED) released a statement on the new unemployment numbers Thursday, that asked for more federal support in the province.
“The sharp rise in unemployment in Calgary and Alberta from the early days of the oil price war and the pandemic is a harbinger of the tough times ahead,” president and CEO of CED Mary Moran said.
“Given the twin crises we face, we need the Government of Canada to be there with short-term and long-term support for Calgary and Alberta.”
Nationally, the unemployment rate jumped to 7.8 per cent from 5.6 per cent in February, the largest one-month increase since comparable record-keeping began in 1976. The previous record was the 125,000 jobs lost in January 2009.
Canada’s March labour market report was the first since the country started feeling a significant impact from the coronavirus pandemic.
Alberta’s first case of COVID-19, a woman in her 50s from the Calgary area, was announced on March 5.
Two weeks later, on March 19, Alberta’s chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw announced the province had recorded its first COVID-19 death.
In the month since the province’s first COVID-19 case was announced, schools across the province have been closed, communities have declared local states of emergency and non-essential businesses have been ordered to shut down.
— With files from Christa Dao