Calgary

Alberta EI beneficiaries decline for first time in 21 months

After increasing for 21 straight months, the number of Albertans receiving employment insurance benefits dipped slightly in June, but that doesn't mean fewer people are jobless, as some could simply have had benefits run out.

Small dip doesn't mean fewer jobless people, as some could simply have had benefits run out

Thousands of people showed up for a job fair on Aug. 17 put on by the Calgary airport, which is looking to hire people to work at its new international terminal. The number of EI beneficiaries dipped slightly in Alberta in June, but unemployment rose in July. (Stephanie Wiebe/CBC)

After increasing for 21 straight months, the number of Albertans receiving employment insurance benefits dipped slightly in June, according to Statistics Canada.

There were 77,190 people in the province receiving regular EI income in June, down 0.8 per cent from May.

The number of beneficiaries in Edmonton was down 2.7 per cent to 23,580, and in Calgary the number was down 0.6 per cent to 23,900.

The Fort McMurray/Wood Buffalo area, which saw the number of people on EI more than double in May in the wake of the wildfire, saw another increase in June, with the total rising 3.5 per cent to 4,480.

Click on this interactive graph to see EI beneficiaries in different areas over the past two years:

The decline in EI beneficiaries does not necessarily mean fewer people are unemployed, however.

"It's important to distinguish those who receive employment insurance from those who are unemployed," said Trevor Tombe, an economist at the University of Calgary.

"You can be unemployed and not eligible for EI payments. For example, you might not have been on the job long enough, you might be self-employed, you might have quit voluntarily or have been dismissed with cause … or you might be unemployed and your benefits run out."

Chris Ettinger, who waited for hours to get inside a job fair put on by the Calgary airport this week, said he has been on EI for seven months and is nearing the end of his eligibility for benefits.

"It's getting a little nerve-racking," he said. "Obviously, there's a huge shortage of jobs out there."

Chris Ettinger said he has been on EI for seven months and the benefits will run out soon. (CBC)

In response to the economic downturn, the federal government expanded EI eligibility in most of Alberta in March, but initially excluded Edmonton from the changes.

Claimants who qualify for the extension get at least an additional five weeks of benefits, up to 20 extra weeks for long-tenured employees. The benefits were made retroactive to January 2015.

Facing public criticism from Alberta Premier Rachel Notley, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced in May it would also include Edmonton in the extended EI benefits, too, starting in July.

Alberta's unemployment rate rose to 8.6 per cent in July, up from 7.9 per cent in June, according to Statistics Canada.

That's the highest rate the province has seen since 1994.