Alberta’s unemployment rate remained among the highest in Canada in May as COVID-19 continued to take its toll on the provincial economy.
Statistics Canada released its latest Labour Force Survey results on Friday, which reflect labour market conditions as of the week of May 10 to May 16.
By then, some provinces across Canada had begun to re-evaluate and gradually ease public health restrictions, including allowing some non-essential businesses to reopen. However, the COVID-19 economic shutdown was still largely in place in Alberta, with the first stage of the province’s relaunch strategy not kicking off until mid-May.
According to the survey, the jobless rate in Alberta spiked to 15.5 per cent in May from 13.4 per cent in April.
Only Newfoundland and Labrador (16.3 per cent) had higher provincial jobless numbers.
According to Todd Crawford, associate director of Industrial Economic Trends, Forecasting and Analysis at The Conference Board of Canada, it will still take some time to see the impacts of the province’s relaunch strategy on the economy.
“To even see some positive numbers when your big urban centres are still shut down, that’s an indication to me that when we move ahead later into June and July that hopefully the worst is behind us and the road to recovery has begun,” Crawford said.
“The main takeaway here is this is a positive story, jobs are no longer being lost,” Crawford said. “But I think we need to internalize that this is going to take a while and how rapidly we move forward on a vaccine matters.”
Premier Jason Kenney said while he’s pleased to see unemployment hasn’t hit the 25 per cent range they predicted a couple of months ago, he also believes the stats released Friday somewhat “disguise the real picture.”
“A lot of economists — including our own Tanya’s department (Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Tourism Tanya Fir) — have done an analysis which shows that if you also account for the tens of thousands of people who have left the labour market altogether over the past three months, and if you were to measure today’s unemployment numbers against the pre-COVID size of the labour force, you’re getting something closer to a 25 per cent unemployment number.”
He added, though, that Alberta will take “whatever good news we can get.”
As the province moves into the next stages of its relaunch, Kenney also expects the jobs numbers to pick up.
“Let’s hope, and I believe, that we’ve seen the bottom of the trough and that we’re going to see employment continue to come back,” the premier said.
“The challenging part is as more jobs are created, more people will move back into the labour force so the overall 15 per cent unemployment stat will continue, I suspect, for some time.”
The number of employed people in Alberta grew by 28,000 in May following a cumulative decline of 361,000 from February to April.
Statistics Canada said the employment increase in the province was entirely driven by the services-producing sector.
Edmonton’s unemployment rate is highest in Canada
Edmonton’s unemployment rate became the highest in the country in May as citizens dealt with the fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Statistics Canada, the jobless rate in the province’s capital sat at 13.6 per cent last month, a sharp increase from 10.0 per cent in April and the worst among the 33 metropolitan areas surveyed.
Calgary, meanwhile, saw jobless numbers climb to 13.4 per cent in May compared to 10.8 per cent the month prior.
In a statement via email on Friday, Calgary Economic Development President and CEO Mary Moran said the full impact of both COVID-19 and the recent plunge in oil prices is becoming more evident.
“Record numbers of people out of work is the most painful part of it,” Moran said. “As we emerge from this, I strongly believe the core elements of our economy – energy in all forms, agribusiness, transportation and logistics, and health and life sciences – will be as important as ever in whatever a new normal looks like and they will underpin our long-term recovery.”
According to Crawford, there are two factors that need to be kept in mind when digesting Friday’s jobs numbers: participation rate and labour utilization rate, which represents people who are still employed but lost work hours.
“This month we did start to see the average hours of work tick up, so all in all, hopefully this turns out to be a long positive story. Canada needs it and Alberta needs it,” Crawford said.
Nationally, Canada clawed back 289,600 jobs, but the unemployment rate still rose to 13.7 per cent, the highest level since comparable record-keeping began in 1976.
The increase in the unemployment rate, which topped the previous record of 13.1 per cent set in December 1982, came as more people started looking for work.
With files from Caley Ramsay, Adam MacVicar, Global News and The Canadian Press