Three key things stand out when taking a “30,000 foot” perspective on Alberta’s labour force:
First is the importance of Alberta as an engine of job creation. The number of jobs in Alberta has–on average–grown by 2.5 per cent per year since 1976. The average for the rest of Canada is 1.5 per cent. That might not seem like a huge difference, but if the number of jobs in Alberta had grown at the same rate as in the rest of Canada, there would be 736,000 fewer jobs in the province today. That’s a lot of additional jobs for Albertans and for the thousands of people from other parts of Canada and the world who have come here to make a better life.
Second, from agriculture and tourism to our universities and entrepreneurs, there are lots of reasons why Alberta’s economy has grown (and will keep growing). But the reason we have been able to outperform the rest of the country on job growth is our oil and gas sector and the economic activity it supports. The walloping our labour market has taken because of the 2015-16 recession drives this point home. Oil prices plummeted and the number of jobs in the sectors that depend on the oil industry shrank.
Third, the recession was painful and we are still feeling it. At 6.6 per cent in March, we had the highest unemployment rate in the country outside of Atlantic Canada. That’s a lot better than the 9.0 per cent we reached in November 2016, but it’s still high by Alberta standards. Alberta also had the longest average length of unemployment in the country in 2017 at 23.1 weeks (up from 14.5 weeks in 2014) compared to 19.6 weeks nationally. What’s more, we are still 28,000 jobs short of where we were in June 2015 (the peak) and this doesn’t account for the fact that our working age population has grown by 3.0 per cent since then.
Why does this matter? As Albertans, we should be proud of the contribution we've made to Canada’s job growth over the last four decades. It is also worth reminding ourselves and our neighbours that when the oil and gas sector falters, our ability to create jobs also falters. Finally, while the recession is over (Alberta’s GDP grew by 4.9 per cent last year), it does not feel that way to everyone and we are not “back to normal” on the job front.
You can find more analysis of Alberta’s labour force in the latest edition of Perch and the accompanying extended report on atb.com/economics
This post is written by guest writer Rob Roach, ATB Financial's Director of Insight.