Alberta unemployment rate hits 7% for first time in half-decade

Alberta's unemployment rate rose to seven per cent at the end of 2015 up from from 4.7 per cent in 2014, Statistics Canada figures show.

Declines in full-time employment were offset by gains in part-time work

Alberta saw the country's biggest employment declines in natural resources, accommodation and food services, Statistics Canada figures show. (Norm Betts/Bloomberg News)

Alberta's unemployment rate rose to seven per cent at the end of 2015 — a level not seen since April 2010 — and up from from 4.7 per cent in 2014, Statistics Canada figures show.

But overall employment was little changed in 2015 compared with 2014, the agency said, as declines in full-time employment were offset by gains in part-time work.

The number of Albertans looking for work increased by 58,000, while the number of hours worked in the province fell by 4.3 per cent in 2015 compared with 2014.

Across Canada, employment in natural resources fell 6.8 per cent, with most of that decline taking place in Alberta. However, there were also smaller declines in Saskatchewan, Newfoundland and Labrador as well as Nova Scotia.

Employment in natural resources in Alberta from 2008 to 2015. Includes forestry, fishing, mining, quarrying, as well as oil and gas extraction. (Statistics Canada)

In accommodation and food services, employment declined by 2.3 per cent, mostly in Alberta and British Columbia.

Ontario was the only province to post a jobs increase, according to the figures released Friday.

Nationwide, employment gains totalled 158,000 or 0.9 per cent in 2015, slightly outpacing the growth rate of 0.7 per cent over the same period from 2013 to 2014.

Edmonton and Calgary numbers

Calgary's unemployment rate, measured as a three-month moving average, hit seven per cent in December, compared to 6.6 per cent in August. 

Edmonton's unemployment rate, meanwhile, stood at 6.2 per cent at the end of the year, compared to 5.5 per cent in August.

Alberta's figures were still marginally better than the national unemployment rate, which stood at 7.1 per cent at year's end.

Worst is yet to come

The figures reflect the toll taken by low oil prices in Alberta, says Janice Plumstead, senior economist with the Canada West Foundation. 

"As long as the price of oil continues to go downwards, we can probably expect to hear more layoffs," she said, adding that 2016 will be another challenging year for the province.

Unlike the 2008 recession, which was driven by the global financial crisis, the recovery will likely take much longer this time, Plumstead said, as Saudi Arabia continues its campaign to shut out high-cost oil producers.