Alberta sees unemployment dip as jobless rate hits new low across the country

‘You’re truly starting to see the economic momentum of Alberta hit its stride,’ jobs minister says

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Alberta saw a slight decline in its unemployment rate last month as Canada’s rate hit a record low.

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Across the country, the unemployment rate fell to 5.3 per cent, a low not seen since Statistics Canada started tracking comparable data in 1976 as about 73,000 jobs were gained, the agency reported Friday.

In Alberta, the jobless rate went to 6.5 per cent from 6.8 per cent in February, while the province counted 15,700 new full-time jobs but 8,400 fewer part-time gigs.

Jobs, Economy and Innovation Minister Doug Schweitzer said at an unrelated news conference Friday the numbers show the provincial economy is turning a corner, and the unemployment rate is the lowest it’s been since December 2018.

“You’re truly starting to see the economic momentum of Alberta hit its stride,” said Schweitzer, adding Alberta’s employment rate of 64.7 per cent is the highest among provinces, just one point above that of Saskatchewan.

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The data reflect labor market conditions from March 13 to 19, after Alberta lifted venue capacity limits and COVID-19 restrictions on large gatherings.

In Edmonton, the unemployment rate rose slightly to 7.1 per cent from 6.9 per cent in February. In Calgary, that number dropped to 7.7 per cent from 8.0 per cent the month before — still one of the highest unemployment rates among major cities in Canada.

Schweitzer acknowledged labor shortages hitting sectors across Alberta. To help address it, the government has earmarked $600 million over three years for its Alberta at Work program, aiming to expand student enrollment in areas with identified skills shortages — including technology, agriculture, financial services and aviation — by creating 7,000 spaces.

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The latest numbers show the Canadian labor market has rarely been tighter, which threatens to add to inflationary pressures by causing wages to spiral higher. Average hourly wages rose 3.4 per cent from March 2021, compared with a year-over-year increase of 3.1 per cent in February.

Statistics Canada reported that wages are increasing at a slower pace than in the second half of 2019, when the jobless rate was hovering around 5.5 per cent and wages were increasing at an annual rate of around four per cent.

In Alberta, wage growth was the lowest, at 1.4 per cent, with gains in some industries including natural resources and retail trade partially offset by declines in others, like educational services.

Speaking at a news conference Friday in Calgary, NDP Leader Rachel Notley said she hopes the province is seeing a rebound, but noted Alberta still lags behind much of the country with a worse-than-average unemployment rate.

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Unemployment rates in neighboring Saskatchewan and British Columbia hovered around five per cent in March, while in the Newfoundland and Labrador, the rate was 12.9 per cent.

Notley said neither the federal nor provincial governments have focused enough on job retraining efforts and supports for workers as the economy experiences a restructuring with new technology and industries, including oil and gas, aiming to meet climate change goals.

“It’s really critically important to help us attract diversified investment, and it’s important to help deal with an equitable wage increase that will not happen in its absence,” Notley said.

-With files from Kevin Carmichael

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