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Jobs in Calgary and Edmonton

When it comes to job numbers, no one wins when one city is doing better than the other. We only win when as many Albertans as possible are doing well.

By ATB Economics 12 April 2020 2 min read

With NHL hockey on hiatus and the CFL football season delayed, it’s tempting to transfer the rivalry between the two cities from sports to labour market performance. We have to be careful when doing so for three reasons.

First, when it comes to job numbers, no one wins when one city is doing better than the other. We only win when as many Albertans as possible are doing well, whether they live in Calgary, Edmonton or one of our many other great communities.

Second, the monthly job numbers available from Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey (LFS) for the Census Metropolitan Areas of Calgary and Edmonton* are expressed as three-month moving averages whereas the headline numbers for the province as a whole are not. As a result, the two sets of numbers are not directly comparable.

For example, the headline unemployment rate for Alberta in March was 8.7 per cent compared to 8.6 per cent in Calgary and 7.9 per cent in Edmonton. This makes it look like the unemployment rate is lower in the two big cities than in the province as a whole. However, when the provincial unemployment rate is expressed as a three-month moving average, it’s 7.7 per cent, not 8.7 per cent.

The reason Statistics Canada uses a three-month moving average to express the job numbers for Calgary and Edmonton is that they are not as accurate as the province-wide statistics. Using three-month moving averages increases the accuracy of the numbers, but downplays month-to-month changes (which were particularly important in March because we wanted to assess the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic). 

Third, even when using a three-month moving average, the numbers for the two cities are subject to a wide margin of error. This makes comparing small differences between the two urban areas difficult. Was the March unemployment rate in Calgary really 0.7 percentage points higher than Edmonton’s?  Given the wide margin of error, we simply can’t say.

This doesn’t mean we can’t glean anything useful about job conditions in the two cities from the Labour Force Survey—annual figures are, for example, more accurate—but it does mean we need to exercise a great deal of caution when interpreting them.

*Monthly statistics are not available for smaller centres.

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A note on COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic is having a major impact on the economy here in Alberta and around the world. The Owl will report on these impacts when good information is available while continuing to track regularly scheduled releases of economic data and long-term trends.

For additional information on COVID-19 and advice for the public, please visit Alberta Health Services. Please go to atb.com for COVID-19-related updates from ATB Financial.

The annual unemployment rates in Calgary and Edmonton

Calgary's unemployment rate was a shade below Edmonton's in 2019.


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