Okanagan expected to face rising unemployment due to COVID-19’s economic impact

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As the number of employed Canadians dropped by more than a million last month, the jobless rate in Kelowna also jumped.

Unemployment in Kelowna was 5.9 per cent in March, up from 5.3 per cent in February, according to Statistics Canada.

Job losses around the Okanagan are expected to continue to increase.

READ MORE: Alberta premier warns devastating economic impact of COVID-19 could mean record unemployment, negative oil prices

The Statistics Canada data for March was collected between March 15 and 21, making it potentially already out of date due to the fast-moving economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

B.C.’s Finance Minister Carole James described the numbers as “early indicators” and said she expected the labour market statistics to continue to be “challenging for the next couple of months.”

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The executive director of a Vernon non-profit which operates employment services said job listings are down.

However, Leigha Horsfield, who heads up Community Futures North Okanagan, said work opportunities haven’t completely dried up, with certain essential services now finding themselves in high demand.

READ MORE: ‘This is unprecedented’: B.C.’s hotel industry takes big hit during coronavirus crisis

Horsfield said grocery stores, pharmacies and the health care sector are hiring.

“We are seeing those kinds of employers desperate to find workers. In fact they are offering all kinds of incentives and they are streamlining their processes in order to get people in the door,” Horsfield.

However, the Community Future’s employment office is not seeing a rush of new job seekers as the pandemic is posing other challenges for potential workers.

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Horsfield said people are hesitant about looking for work as the same types of jobs that were being advertised before the pandemic aren’t available, and potential workers are concerned about their safety on the job during the pandemic.

Horsfield said that job searches are also moving online due to social distancing, with the Vernon WorkBC office even planning to hold virtual job fairs.

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