Alberta unemployment rate hits 7.4%, highest since 1996

The province has shed 73,000 full-time positions in the past year, offset by a gain of 38,000 part-time positions.

First time since 1988 that Alberta's jobless rate higher than national average

For the first time since 1988, Alberta's unemployment rate is higher than the national average. (Norm Betts/Bloomberg News)

Alberta's unemployment rate hit 7.4 per cent in January, the highest since February 1996, according to Statistics Canada.

Alberta's jobless rate has surpassed the national unemployment rate for the first time in almost three decades.

The January Labour Force Survey shows that employment in Alberta decreased by 10,000 jobs in January.  

That's a total net loss of 35,000 jobs since January of last year, but the losses in full-time work were even greater.

It's noteworthy that the job losses are concentrated among young men, said University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe. 

"They're also concentrated among those that typically have lower levels of education, so high school, certainly no more than university education," he said.

"And so how this labour market is impacting Albertans really depends on their gender, their age and their level of education, " he said.

The province has shed 73,000 full-time positions in the past year, offset by a gain of 38,000 part-time positions.

Alberta's energy-sector slowdown also took a toll on other industries. The survey says 11,000 fewer people were working in manufacturing in January,"the result of a large decline in Alberta."

Despite "little employment change in natural resources for the month," the report says industry declines totalled 13,000 jobs in the past year, also driven by losses in Alberta.

The unemployment rate in Alberta might continue to go up for the next few months, said Janice Plumstead, a senior economist with the Canada West Foundation.

"I expect that until the situation with the oil price stabilizes out in the global market that Alberta is going to continue to feel this for the next little while," she said.

The energy sector has changed in some fundamental ways since the last time the Alberta economy shed this many jobs, Plumstead said.

"We know that the United States used to be our largest customer. Now they're going to be our competitor," she said. 

"And so it's a much more difficult market to actually do business in now."

Calgary still drawing opportunity seekers

Mayor Naheed Nenshi, who is in Ottawa meeting the prime minister and the other big city mayors, said Calgary is actually doing better than other parts of Alberta.

"People keep coming to Calgary for opportunity. So we've had … three of the record years of population growth in Calgary since I've been mayor and we think that continued in 2015," he said.

"So, we are resilient but we are now experiencing something we're not used to."

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