Calgary

Unemployment rate among young men in Alberta nears 20%, a level not seen since the early 1980s

Alberta's unemployment rate among young men has nearly doubled over the past seven months, in an unprecedented spike that has pushed their joblessness rate to a level not since the early 1980s.

After trending downward for 2 years, youth male unemployment has been surging since April

Young job-seekers line up outside a youth hiring fair in Calgary in 2018. (Terri Trembath/CBC)

Alberta's unemployment rate among young men has nearly doubled over the past seven months, in an unprecedented spike that has pushed their joblessness rate to a level not since the early 1980s.

In April, roughly one in 10 young men in Alberta was unemployed.

By November, it had surged to one in five.

This is according to Statistics Canada's labour force survey, which can be subject to significant, short-term fluctuations. The federal agency generally cautions against reading too much into month-to-month swings but the trend among young men has continued, unabated, for most of 2019.

University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe believes the data represents a real — and somewhat baffling — recent shift in the employment picture facing Alberta men under the age of 25.

Unemployment relatively steady among young women

Tombe notes this is the sharpest increase in youth unemployment among men, outside of a recession, that Alberta has seen.

The same data, meanwhile, shows a relatively stable employment picture for young women over the same period in 2019.

Both young men and women saw their unemployment rates surge in 2015 and 2016, when Alberta was in the grips of a recession, but the effect was especially pronounced for men.

As oil prices plunged and jobs were lost across the province, Tombe said the lines of work dominated by younger male workers — oil and gas extraction, support activities and construction — often saw the heaviest losses.

But after peaking in mid-2017, the unemployment rate among young men declined for nearly two straight years.

Then in 2019, it turned on a dime and started shooting upward again, surging from a rate of 10.6 per cent in April to 19.4 per cent in November.

And that, Tombe said, is trickier to understand.

"What I think is concerning but also difficult to explain is why we've seen a continued deterioration of the employment rate," Tombe said.

"So typically when the recession ends, employment rates stop falling. But for men under the age of 25, their employment rate has just kept on declining."


Are you a young person looking for work in Alberta? What's it like these days? If you're willing to share your experience with hunting for a job or your thoughts on the youth employment picture, please contact robson.fletcher@cbc.ca

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