34,000 Albertans jobless for six months or longer
One in five unemployed people has been out of work for at least half a year — the highest level in Canada
Melissa Burgis has been laid off for more than five months — her longest stretch without work in her professional career. The job hunt has deteriorated from hopeful to demoralizing.
Burgis was a sales rep for an innersole and flip-flop retailer before the company laid her off along with five other workers in December.
As the days turn into months, the prolonged search for work has weighed on her financially and mentally.
"I almost feel useless, in a way," she said. "You're applying to all these different jobs, but you're not hearing back. It's like, what am I doing wrong? How can I change this? But it almost feels like it's completely out of my control."
She's not alone.
Roughly 34,000 Albertans - more than the population of Okotoks — have been jobless for six months or longer, according to Statistics Canada.
This long wait for work emerged as a significant source of financial and economic hardship for scores of Albertans after the 2014 oil price collapse triggered a recession.
This trend hit a peak in April 2017, when nearly 68,000 Albertans were jobless for six months or more. But in the years following the recession, these numbers haven't fallen back to what economists consider normal levels.
Before the 2008 financial crisis, about five per cent of unemployed Albertans had been jobless for at least half a year. Before the oil price crash, 10 per cent of the province's job seekers were in the same position.
Last month, it was 20 per cent — the highest level in the country.
In other words, one in five unemployed Albertans hasn't been working since Remembrance Day, if not longer.
Burgis said the trend revealed in the Statistics Canada data gives her some relief and comfort, because it shows she's not the only one who is struggling to find work.
At first, she was landing interviews, making her hopeful she'd find the right fit before long. But more recently, she's noticed she's competing with a crowded list of applicants with each job she seeks.
"I've never been out of a job," she said. "I don't have anything to compare this to."
According to Statistics Canada, there are about four unemployed workers in Alberta for every vacant job. That's more than double pre-recession levels.
Economist Trevor Tombe said the prolonged job hunt generally suggests a troubling weakness in Alberta's workforce. He said in some cases there could be a mismatch between the skills of job-seekers and what employers are looking for.
"And that skills mismatch is difficult to overcome because it does require retraining initiatives, for example," he said.
Tombe, who teaches economics at the University of Calgary, said he suspects this is largely the result of economic pain in the oilpatch.
"It's really the continuation of what we've been seeing for years," he said.
During the recent downturn, oil and gas producers slashed spending on exploration and new projects, which hit a wide swath of workers from geologists to drillers and construction labourers.
These labourers were in many cases young men who have struggled to find jobs in the industry again, given that capital spending in the oilpatch is not expected to return to boom-era levels.
Tombe said the jobs data shows men under the age of 25 were hit especially hard by the downturn, noting the employment rate for the age group fell 10 percentage points since the recession, down to almost 55 per cent last month.
"About half of that group has transitioned into going back to school, but the other half, it looks like they're withdrawing from the labour market," he said.
Burgis has never worked in oil and gas, but she appears to be caught up in the economic upheaval facing the industry.
"When I was first let go, I thought, Oh, OK, I'll find a job within three or four months," she said. "Now, it's like, Oh my God, when am I going to find a job?"