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Changes in self-employment since COVID

By Rob Roach, ATB Economics 13 June 2023 1 min read

Self-employment* is an important part of the economy, representing about 15% of total employment in Alberta last year.

Let’s take a look at the trajectory of self-employment in Alberta over the last few years.

Overall, the annual** proportion of workers who are self-employed has been relatively stable.

The year before the pandemic in 2019, there were about 355,000 self-employed Albertans accounting for roughly 15.4% of total employment in the province.

While the average number of self-employed Albertans stayed essentially the same in 2020, its share of total employment rose to 16.6% as the number of employee positions fell in the face of public health restrictions.

By 2022, there were 1.2% fewer self-employed Albertans (351,000) representing 14.8% of total employment. So, a little lower, but not much different than before COVID.

The differences are a bit more stark at the national level with self-employment down by 6.3% in 2022 compared to 2019 and its share of total employment in Canada going from 14.8% to 13.5%.

What can we take away from these statistics?

First, self-employment’s share of total employment in Alberta increased during the height of the pandemic, but this was more about the drop in employee positions than a sea change in the level of self-employment.

Second, although the pre- and post-pandemic numbers are not that different, there has been a long-term downward trend in the ratio of self-employed workers to employee positions. Self-employment’s share of total employment in Alberta averaged 19.1% in the 1990s, 17.5% from 2000 to 2009 and 16.0% from 2010 to 2022.

Nationally, self-employment’s share was 15.8% in the 1990s, 15.5% in the 2000s and 14.9% from 2010 to 2022.

*Statistics Canada’s Labour Force Survey includes self-employed workers who report that their main job involves working for themselves rather than an employer.

**There is a lot of month-to-month noise in the estimates of self-employment and this continued during the pandemic.

Answer to the previous trivia question: The World Trade Organization commenced operations on January 1, 1995.

Today’s trivia question: Between 1976 and 2022, self-employment’s average annual share of total employment in Alberta edged up over 20% three times. In what year did it peak?

Self-employment levels in Alberta were higher in the 1990s

Self-employment levels in Alberta were higher in the 1990s

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