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Calgary’s unemployment rate the highest in Canada for second straight month

Alberta’s job growth lags behind other provinces
WATCH: Nearly 10,000 jobs were created in Alberta last month and unemployment fell by a full per cent. But as Fletcher Kent reports, few are encouraged by the figures as Alberta's growth lagged behind almost every other province.

Calgary recorded the highest unemployment rate in all of Canada last month as COVID-19 continued to wreak havoc on Alberta’s economy.

According to Statistics Canada’s August 2020 Labour Force Survey, Calgary’s jobless rate sat at 14.4 per cent last month, the worst among the 34 metropolitan areas surveyed.

August marks the second month in a row that the oil and gas hub has had the highest jobless numbers in Canada; in July, Calgary’s unemployment was a staggering 15.5 per cent.

Edmonton, meanwhile, recorded an unemployment rate of 13.6 per cent in August compared to 15 per cent in July. Edmonton’s August jobless numbers were the third highest in the country after Calgary (14.4) and Toronto (13.9).

Alberta’s unemployment rate remained among the highest in Canada in August

Alberta’s unemployment rate remained among the highest in Canada in August, according to the survey.

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The jobless rate in Alberta dropped to 11.8 per cent in August from 12.8 per cent the month prior.

“With those numbers that we see today, it just drives home the urgency as to why we created this new Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation and why we’ve put the responsibility of the recovery plan into this new beefed-up ministry that has additional responsibility,” said Doug Schweitzer, who was made the head of the newly created Ministry of Jobs, Economy and Innovation at the end of August.

“This is the number one file for Albertans — getting people back to work and that’s what got me into politics in the first place.

“If you’ve been dealt a tough card with respect to the oil crash, as well as with this pandemic… we’re going to come back faster than any other jurisdiction in the country. The one thing that Albertans do better than anyone else is move quickly.”

Only Newfoundland and Labrador had higher provincial unemployment numbers than Alberta, sitting at 13.1 per cent compared with 15.6 in July.

Read more: Canada adds 246K new jobs in August, unemployment rate falls amid coronavirus

The Labour Force Survey, released on Friday, reflects labour market conditions as of the week of Aug. 9 to 15, five months after the onset of the COVID-19 economic shutdown.

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Nationally, Canada’s unemployment rate fell to 10.2 per cent in August compared with 10.9 per cent in July.

Charles St. Arnaud, the chief economist for Alberta Central, said the unemployment numbers are beginning to show more evidence that Alberta is actually “lagging quite significantly” behind the rest of the country when it comes to labour market recovery.

“The monthly numbers are always relatively volatile so we need to look more into a trend,” he explained. “So if we look at, how far are we compared to where we were pre-pandemic, we’re much further behind than the rest of the country.

“In terms of level of employment, we’re about seven per cent below where we were pre-pandemic. In the rest of the country we’re about 5.6 per cent. So we’re still lagging in terms of job recovery.”

St. Arnaud said it’s also important to note that Alberta has been hit by “two major shocks” — the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the drop in oil prices.

“The rest of the country doesn’t have to deal with that sort of shock, so in a way, that’s holding us back here,” he said.

“The recovery will really depend, in some ways, on how oil recovers, both in terms of production and prices, but also how the rest of the economy manages to recover from the pandemic. The question is, if we get a second wave do we need to again put more restrictions on the economic activity going forward?”

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Read more: COVID-19 pandemic, low energy prices leave Alberta with $24.2B deficit

And while Alberta’s unemployment rate did improve in August compared to July, he warned the reason behind that improvement may not be all that positive.

“Only about a third is because of job gains,” he said, adding the remaining two-thirds is either because people have left the labour force or stopped looking for work in August.

“It says that a lot of people have basically lost hope of trying to find employment in the current environment,” he said. “The share of your population that’s actually working is very important because those are the ones who will be contributing to fiscal revenues through income taxes.”

Statistics Canada says the economy added 246,000 in August as the pace of job gains slowed compared with July, when 419,000 jobs were added.

In the survey, Statistics Canada notes that, as of the week of Aug. 9 to 15, the total number of Canadian workers affected by the COVID-19 economic shutdown stood at 1.8 million.

A look at Calgary and Edmonton’s unemployment rate history:

April 2020

Calgary – 10.8 per cent
Edmonton – 10.0 per cent

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May 2020

Calgary – 13.4 per cent
Edmonton – 13.6 per cent

June 2020

Calgary – 15.6 per cent
Edmonton – 15.7 per cent

July 2020

Calgary – 15.5 per cent
Edmonton – 15.0 per cent

August 2020

Calgary – 14.4 per cent
Edmonton – 13.6 per cent