‘Small businesses are struggling to stay alive’: Alberta’s jobless rate remains among highest in country

Alberta’s unemployment rate was little changed in December, dropping one-tenth of a percentage point to 11.0 per cent from 11.1 per cent the month before.

According to Statistics Canada’s December 2020 Labour Force Survey, only Newfoundland and Labrador had higher provincial unemployment numbers than Alberta last month (12.3 per cent).

Though the province’s unemployment rate did drop ever-so-slightly in December, the survey noted it was still up significantly from its pre-pandemic rate of 7.2 per cent in February (-5.4 per cent).

“Employment declines were most notable in information, culture and recreation; construction; and accommodation and food services, while more people were working in business, building and other support services,” the survey stated.

Read more: Canada sheds 63K jobs in December, first decline since April

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The Labour Force Survey, released on Friday, reflects labour market conditions during the week of Dec. 6 to 12, almost two weeks after Alberta’s UCP government declared a second state of public health emergency and announced new targeted COVID-19 measures targeting entertainment and recreation facilities.

The survey does not reflect the impact of new, stronger province-wide COVID-19 restrictions announced by Kenney’s UCP government on Dec. 8 — which were, on Thursday, extended to last until at least Jan. 21.

Minister of Jobs, Economy and Innovation Doug Schweitzer said Friday that December’s job numbers “demonstrate the resiliency of the Alberta economy” with an increase of 30,000 full-time jobs.

“We know that many small businesses are struggling to stay alive,” Schweitzer said. “That is why we tripled the support available to them through our relaunch grant.

“As of Jan. 7, we have paid out more than $232 million to more than 36,000 small and medium-sized businesses to help them when they need it most.

“The pandemic is not over but we are hopeful we will soon see restrictions loosened and jobs recovered as we move forward.”

“The latest unemployment numbers were to be expected with the second wave of COVID- 19,” said Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development.

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“There is still a lot of uncertainty around the economy and we know we have to prepare for more economic challenges and a bumpy road ahead.”

Moran pointed out that the labour force participation rate — the number of people employed and looking for work — in Calgary decreased by 0.4 per cent in December to 72.9 per cent.

“Our labour force participation rate, while slightly down, is higher than it was a year ago and is still considerably higher than the national average. This speaks to our community’s resiliency. Throughout all the challenges our community has faced over the last six years, Calgarians’ desire to work remains strong. Having an active labour force is critical for economic recovery.”

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In a Friday news release, Alberta’s NDP said the December survey shows that the UCP government’s “refusal to take action” during the beginning of the second wave of COVID-19 and “has left Alberta behind every other province in terms of economic recovery.”

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“For months, the UCP refused to act to stop the spread of COVID-19,” NDP labour critic Christina Gray said. “They allowed the virus to spread out of control while our hospitals and ICUs filled up and they continued to present a false choice between protecting public health and protecting our economy. As a result, they failed at both.

“If we are going to get through this second wave and protect jobs, we need immediate financial support for workers and small businesses.”

Nationally, the unemployment rate was little changed at 8.6 per cent in December, up 0.1 percentage points from 8.5 per cent the month before.

Edmonton and Calgary continue to see employment gains

In December, both Calgary and Edmonton marked their sixth consecutive month with employment gains.

Edmonton’s jobless rate dropped to 11.1 per cent in December from 11.3 per cent the month prior.

Though it declined, Edmonton still has one of the highest employment rates in the country. Alberta’s capital city is tied with Windsor, Ont. (11.1) for the second highest among the 34 metropolitan areas surveyed, behind Barrie, Ont. (12.1).

Calgary recorded an unemployment rate of 10.4 per cent last month, down from 10.7 per cent in November.

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A look at Calgary and Edmonton’s unemployment rates amid COVID-19:

April 2020

↑ Calgary: 10.8 per cent
↑ Edmonton: 10.0 per cent

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

September 2020

↓ Calgary: 12.6 per cent
↓ Edmonton: 12.6 per cent

October 2020

↓ Calgary: 11.3 per cent
↓ Edmonton: 12.0 per cent

November 2020

↓ Calgary: 10.7 per cent
↓ Edmonton: 11.3 per cent

December 2020

↓ Calgary: 10.4 per cent
↓ Edmonton: 11.1 per cent

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