Alberta's still not the economic driver it once was: ATB report

Jobs are returning to Alberta but the province still isn't back to being the economic driver it once was, according to a study by ATB Financial.

There's still 'underlying pain' from the recession

ATB Financial says Alberta is adding jobs, but it's not yet back to where it once was. (David Bell/CBC)

Jobs are returning to Alberta but the province still isn't back to being the economic driver it once was, according to a report by ATB Financial.

"It's going to take some time to get there, and there's still a lot of people on the other side of this who haven't been able to find work or are still struggling in the wake of the recession," said Rob Roach, director of insight with ATB's economics and research team.

"So on the one hand we're growing again and we'll probably get back to leading the country in job growth but there's still that underlying pain left over from the recession."

A chart from ATB Financial shows the annual per cent change in job creation in Alberta and Canada from 2007 to 2017. (ATB Financial)

The overview of Alberta's labour force report, released Wednesday, found Alberta has the highest employment rate of any province every year since 1976, and employment growth averaged 1.7 per cent from 2007 to 2017, compared to 1.1 per cent nationally. 

The average annual unemployment rate in Alberta over the same time period was 5.6 per cent, compared to seven per cent nationally.

Recession hit hard

But, the recession had a big impact on the province. There were 37,300 fewer jobs in the province in 2016 compared to 2015, ATB said, and 14,200 fewer in 2017 compared to 2015.

The province's annual unemployment rate also jumped above the national average in 2017 for the first time since 1988. 

But, annual employment growth has stayed strong in Alberta. Annual employment growth has averaged 2.5 per cent since 1976, with the province adding 300,000 jobs in the past decade, accounting for 18 per cent of all the jobs created in the country in that time. 

ATB said in the study that if Alberta's job growth had matched Canada's, there would be 736,000 fewer jobs in the province today. 

In the past decade, more jobs were created in Alberta than in the Atlantic provinces and B.C. together, the report found.

Oil recovery spurs job growth

Roach said recovery in the oil and gas sector has started to spur job growth in other industries.

"Now that things have been improving overall and especially in the energy sector, we should see Alberta get back to much stronger levels of employment growth and being able to play once again that role as an engine of job creation sort of above what the rest of the country is able to do."

But, he said some of those returning jobs are part time or at lower wages. The report found that the proportion of young workers with part-time jobs has increased above the 10-year average of 37.4 per cent in the past two years, which could mean there has been less full-time work for those under 25-years-old. 

With files from Elizabeth Snaddon