indicatorThe Owl

Employment Insurance claims skyrocket in March

During the last provincial recession in Alberta, EI claims spiked by 98 per cent over the two years of the downturn.

By ATB Economics 1 April 2020 2 min read

Federal Employment Minister Carla Qualtrough wrote in a letter to her constituents yesterday that “[her department has received] the highest number of EI claims in recorded history—over 2 million claims in just 10 days.” A provincial breakdown of this number is not available.

According to Statistics Canada, a total of 2.9 million initial and renewal Employment Insurance claims were received last year, so over 2 million in less than a couple weeks is an astonishing spike. Put another way, the number of claims submitted since mid-March as a result of the COVID-19 epidemic is about 10 times higher than the number received in March 2019 (208,100). 

If we go back to the last national recession in 2009, the number of EI claims increased that year by almost 600,000 or about 21 per cent. Even if EI claims returned to their normal level next week and stayed there for the rest of 2020—an unlikely scenario given ongoing COVID-19 containment efforts and a contracting economy—the annual total would come in around 75 per cent higher than last year.

During the last provincial recession in Alberta, EI claims spiked by 98 per cent over the two years of the downturn, going from 223,820 EI claims made by Albertans in 2014 to 442,180 in 2016.

Weak economic conditions in Alberta last year kept the annual number of EI claims relatively high at 302,300 or about 35 per cent above pre-recession levels.

We won’t have an official count of EI claims in March until May 21, but COVID-19 is clearly having a dramatic impact on employment and the number of Canadians seeking financial support through EI.

The number of EI claims will taper off once the epidemic subsides and the economy kicks back into gear but, at this point, we don’t know for sure when that will be.

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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.

EI claims spiked by 98 per cent over the two years of the downturn

EI claims spiked by 98 per cent over the two years of the downturn


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