Alberta lost a record 117,000 jobs in March

The Alberta government released their March 2020 job numbers yesterday, and—unsurprisingly—they don’t look good.

Last month, Alberta lost over 117,000 jobs: 73,600 part-time jobs and 43,500 full-time jobs.

Since Jason Kenney introduced his so-called Job Creation Tax Cut in July 2019, we’ve had 4 months with drops in full-time jobs, for a total of 52,600 full-time job losses (if you account for gains made in other months). These new numbers make it 5 months of full-time job losses, bringing the total number of full-time jobs lost to 96,100.

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That’s over 10,000 full-time jobs lost every month since last July, on average.

The combined loss of 117,000 part-time and full-time jobs last month is the largest monthly decline on record in Alberta. Jobs dropped by 5% in March 2020, compared to February, as well as 5.1% compared to March 2019.

In comparison, jobs in February 2020 were up by 11,400.

These new job losses have pushed Alberta’s unemployment rate to 8.7%, up 1.5% from February and the highest since January 2017. This is the second highest unemployment rate in Alberta since September 1994, and is only 0.5 points from becoming the highest rate.

Keep in mind, however, that the unemployment rate measures only those who are unemployed and looking for work, so the true percentage of unemployed people is likely higher.

All the job losses last month were in the service sector, with 43,700 in accommodation and food services and 27,500 in retail and wholesale trade, as well as losses in information, culture and recreation, and personal services. Contrastingly, jobs were actually up in forestry, mining, and oil and gas (8,700) and construction (5,300).

Since March 2019, 112,700 Alberta workers have been laid off, 58% of which were permanent layoffs. The number of workers not in the labour force increased by 138,200 over the same period.

But these unemployment number don’t tell the whole story. People who still have a jobs were also affected. For example, over 168,000 employed workers missed a full week of work in March, and nearly 200,000 missed at least half of their usual work hours.

Alberta isn’t alone in this job loss, however. Over 1 million jobs were lost across Canada. This loss is larger than Canada experienced during any of the 3 recessions since 1980.

Employment was down 6% in Québec, 5.3% in Ontario, and 5.3% in BC. While Alberta didn’t have the largest drop in the country, its 5.1% wasn’t that far behind.

The national unemployment rate jumped to 7.8%. It was 5.6% in February. This was the largest single-month increase in unemployment in Canada on record.

That being said, with low oil prices, businesses closed because of COVID-19 social distancing restrictions, and a global stock market crash, it may be months before these numbers start to reverse. And March may end up not even being the worst month.

Some partially good news: Jason Kenney announced yesterday nearly $2 billion in capital funding over the next year. Until yesterday, the allocation planned for 2020–21 capital spending was $937 million.

Specific projects haven’t been announced, but include “capital maintenance and renewal” for “schools, roads, post-secondary institutions, justice facilities, and more”. It will also include $410 million for transportation projects, of which, $60 million will be for transportation operating projects, such as road repair.

It’s good news because capital spending is one of two things necessary to help prevent and even reverse a recession.

It’s partially good news because the other thing needed is an increased public sector workforce. Given the recent cut of 25,000 education workers in the province, on top of the thousands of other public sector jobs losses, it’s unlikely there will be a plan to increase public sector employment in the near future.

While certainly the UCP government can’t be blamed for the oil price war between Russia and Saudi Arabia, the COVID-19 pandemic, or the recession caused by the two, we can hold them responsible for their resistance to investing heavily in the public sector to mitigate the effects of the incoming recession.

As a result, it’s unlikely that we’ll be able to avoid a recession, one some analysts say is already here. And even less likely that we’ll be able to get out of it quickly.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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