indicatorThe Twenty-Four

Things have changed

Alberta’s labour market in 2021

By Rob Roach, ATB Economics 10 January 2022 2 min read

When assessing a hockey player’s current scoring record, do you compare it to their most recent season or their best season? Both approaches tell us something useful.

The same is true for labour market performance.

Labour market conditions in Alberta in 2021 were much better than in 2020. The average number of jobs was 5.1% higher, the labour force grew by 2.0% and the annual unemployment rate was 8.7% compared to 11.4%.

If we didn’t see this kind of improvement after the deepest recession in recent memory, Alberta’s labour market would be in grim shape.

Thankfully, we’ve been able to catch-up on a monthly basis to where things stood before the pandemic began. As of December 2021, employment in Alberta was 0.9% higher than it was in February 2020 and the unemployment rate was a smidge lower at 7.3% compared to 7.5%.

On an annual basis, however, there were 1.8% fewer jobs in Alberta in 2021 than in 2019 and the unemployment rate averaged 8.7% compared to 7.0% two years earlier. When we consider that the Alberta economy contracted by 0.1% in 2019, it’s clear that the economic drag brought on by the pandemic remained a factor last year.

If 2021 was much better than 2020, and somewhat below the low bar set in 2019, how does it compare to when the provincial economy was booming? Looking back at 2014 when the economy grew by 5.9%, the number of jobs in Alberta was—despite population growth of 9.5% in the meantime—about the same as it was in 2021. The number of full-time jobs was, moreover, 2.9% lower in 2021 than in 2014 and the unemployment rate was 8.7% compared to just 4.7%.

Is it fair to compare 2021 to a boom year like 2014? On the one hand, it’s not because the world is a different place today than in 2014. On the other hand, the comparison enables those who experienced the boom years and the busts that have followed to attach some numbers to the changes they have seen on the ground.

While another boom seems unlikely, the improvement in labour market conditions we saw in 2021 should continue in 2022 and increase the opportunities for workers to find good jobs in Alberta. 

Tomorrow’s Owl takes a look at Alberta’s labour market performance in 2021 by industry.

Answer to the previous trivia question: According to, before we had alarm clocks, people would hire “knocker uppers” to tap on the glass of their window with a long pole or shoot peas at the glass to wake them up.

Today’s trivia question: How high did the price of oil get in 2014?

There were 1.8% fewer jobs in Alberta in 2021 than in 2019

There were 1.8% fewer jobs in Alberta in 2021 than in 2019

Economics News

Subscribe and get a quick daily snapshot of what’s happening in Alberta’s economy

Need help?

Our Client Care team will be happy to assist.