indicatorThe Owl

Alberta’s unemployment rate spikes amid COVID-19

There were 117,100 fewer jobs in Alberta in March than in February—a drop of 5.0 per cent.

By ATB Economics 9 April 2020 2 min read

IMPORTANT NOTE FROM STATISTICS CANADA: The March Labour Force Survey (LFS) results reflect labour market conditions during the week of March 15 to 21. By then, a sequence of unprecedented government interventions related to COVID-19—including the closure of non-essential businesses, travel restrictions, and public health measures directing Canadians to limit public interactions—had been put in place. These interventions resulted in a dramatic slowdown in economic activity and a sudden shock to the Canadian labour market. The slowdown continued beyond the LFS reference week and is likely to be more fully reflected in April LFS data.

We knew it was coming, but it’s still shocking to see the initial effects of the effort to contain the spread of COVID-19 on employment.

There were 117,100 fewer jobs in Alberta in March than in February—a drop of 5.0 per cent. The next largest monthly drop over the 531 months of the current data series was 1.1 per cent in May 1982. Nationally, over a million jobs were lost for a monthly decrease of 5.3 per cent.

Alberta’s unemployment rate went from 7.2 per cent in February to 8.7 per cent in March while the national average went from 5.6 per cent to 7.8 per cent.

The unemployment rate did not jump as much as you might think because many people who wanted a job were not looking for one due to business closures or containment efforts. (To be counted as “unemployed” you have to be actively looking for work.) 

Alberta’s labour force contracted by 86,900 people (3.5 per cent) in March. As with total employment, this drop is unprecedented over at least the last four decades. The next largest monthly decline in Alberta’s labour force was 1.0 per cent in October 1984.

Not surprisingly, the largest job losses occurred in accommodation and food services (-27.9 per cent), information, culture and recreation (-25.8 per cent) and wholesale and retail trade (-8.1 per cent).

It’s not particularly helpful in the short-term, but many—though not all—of the jobs that have been lost will eventually come back after the COVID-19 pandemic ends. 

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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.

Alberta’s unemployment rate went from 7.2 per cent in February to 8.7 per cent in March

Alberta’s unemployment rate went from 7.2 per cent in February to 8.7 per cent in March.


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