indicatorThe Owl

Playing catch-up

Football, the pandemic and the Alberta labour force

By Rob Roach, ATB Economics 13 September 2021 2 min read

Watching some Canadian Football League (CFL) games over the weekend, an analogy came to mind that might help explain the current state of Alberta’s (and Canada’s) labour market.

In the CFL, you get three chances or “downs” to move the ball at least 10 yards forward from your starting point before getting tackled or forced out of bounds. If successful, you get three more chances to do the same, and so on, until you score, fail to advance 10 yards in three plays or the other team steals the ball.

Imagine it’s “first down” and the home team has the ball on their 25-yard line. This was the situation in February 2020 before the pandemic was declared.

The ball is snapped, the quarterback falls back about 10 yards to make room to throw the ball, but he is promptly tackled by the other team. The home team now has to start its second opportunity to move the ball forward from where the quarterback was tackled. As such, it’s now “second down” and 20 yards to go before a new set of downs is achieved (the original 10 yards plus the 10 yards lost on the play). Think of this as the situation in mid-2020 when the pandemic and the measures aimed to contain it put thousands of Albertans out of work.

Shaken, but not deterred, the quarterback completes a pass and the ball moves 9 yards forward. This is good, but the team is still a yard behind where it started and 11 yards from where it needs to be. This is the current situation in Alberta.

As of mid-August, the total number of jobs in the province was about 16,000 below where things stood in February 2020. This is a whole lot better than April 2020 when we were 337,000 jobs behind.

With that said, it’s third down and still 11 yards to go. Depending on how economically disruptive the fourth wave turns out to be, we should catch up to where we were in February 2020 soon, but this doesn’t make up for the jobs that would have been created if the pandemic hadn’t happened.

If, for example, employment in Alberta had grown by just 0.1% per month (about 2,300 jobs per month), the number of jobs in August 2021 would have been 41,000 higher than in February 2020 instead of 16,000 lower.

Like our hypothetical football team, we have made solid progress, but to actually move the economic yardsticks forward, we have to make up the rest of the ground we lost and add the yards we should have been gaining over the last 18 months.


Answer to the previous trivia question: Under renovation since 2018, the building on Parliament Hill that includes the permanent chambers of the Senate and House of Commons is called the Centre Block.

Today’s trivia question (the third of a special non-partisan federal election series): How many individuals have served as Canada’s Prime Minister?

If employment in Alberta had grown by 0.1% per month, the number of jobs in August 2021 would have been 41,000 higher than in February 2020 instead of 16,000 lower

If employment in Alberta had grown by 0.1% per month, the number of jobs in August 2021 would have been 41,000 higher than in February 2020 instead of 16,000 lower


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