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Unemployment is expected to take the biggest toll on workers in Alberta's oil, gas and housing industries, according to an economist with the TD Bank Financial Group. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

Workers in Alberta's energy and housing sectors will be hardest hit by job losses in 2009, an economist with the TD Bank Financial Group says.

The province expects 15,000 jobs will be lost this year as companies grapple with the recession, but the number will likely be even higher than that, Pascal Gauthier told CBC News on Friday.

"Really we've never really seen such a drastic U-turn in fortunes," Gauthier said of Alberta's current financial situation.

On Thursday, Alberta Finance Minister Iris Evans announced the province is officially in a recession and will likely end the year with an estimated $1-billion deficit.

She said the unemployment rate is expected to rise to 5.8 per cent, up from 3.6 per cent in 2008.

Gauthier predicts it will be even higher, reaching 6.1 per cent in 2009 and jumping again to 7.1 per cent in 2010.

Falling commodity prices, especially oil and gas, as well as a decline in the province's once-hot housing industry, are to blame for the economic downturn, he said.

Both sectors are victims of their former rapid growth, he said.

Although many of the jobs lost will be from these two sectors, he said other sectors that depend on energy and housing will also be affected while services, such as health and education, will see fewer job losses.

"Typically the service side of the economy is more weatherproof," Gauthier said.

Unemployed workers feeling the pinch

One of the largest trade unions in the province, the United Association of Plumbers and Pipefitters, said its members are already suffering from the decline in activity.

Many of them face tough times ahead because they failed to pay off loans or save money when the money was rolling in, said union representative Barry Pruden.

"If they're out of work  for a week or two weeks, they're in trouble," Pruden said.

"We are going to have people losing houses. There will be people losing  families because of the pressures put on." 

It will be at least 16 months before the province's economy starts to turn around, he said.

Union member J.T. Levitt, who lost his job this week, said trying to find a new one is proving almost impossible.

"It doesn't matter where you go there's nothing," he said. "It's tough. I have a young family so I mean what do you do?"

The province has so far ruled out an economic stimulus package, but Evans said she will provide more details of her plans for the ailing economy when she tables the budget in March.