As slow recovery begins, Calgary still hurting from pre-COVID jobless rates

Nearly 92,000 jobs were created in Alberta last month. That's part of one million jobs that came back in June as the economy begins to recover, according to the latest report from Statistics Canada.

Canadian unemployment rate drops to 12.3% while Alberta holds steady at 15.5%

Mary Moran, president and CEO at Calgary Economic Development, says the latest jobs numbers from Statistics Canada show that Alberta is slightly behind. (Ellis Choe/CBC)

Tens of thousands of Albertans are still struggling to find work, as the rest of the country begins a slow recovery.

Canada's economy has now regained nearly half the jobs that were lost in March and April, with the national unemployment rate falling to 12.3 per cent in June, from a high of 13.7 in May, the latest numbers from Statistics Canada show.

But Alberta's unemployment rate remained steady at 15.5 per cent.

"I would say that you know it's right on par of where we thought it was going to be," said Mary Moran, president and CEO of Calgary Economic Development. "And, you know, we went into COVID obviously with one of the highest unemployment rates and we continue to be there."

The Alberta numbers are sobering — Calgary had the second highest unemployment rate among major cities in Canada in June, just behind Edmonton at 15.7 per cent, the agency said in a release.

"The rate of increase in the number of people losing jobs is slowing, but the continued losses are contrary to the national rebound," Moran said. "The job losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic and depressed energy prices are having a devastating impact."

Moran does see some positives.

"I think the first positive was that there were people that joined the workforce again. So they're kind of keen to get back," she said.

"And secondly is is that we saw some growth in the youth, which is of great concern to us. So, you know, there was a bump of eight per cent in job employment in the last month. So we think that's good.… We should acknowledge the fact that the full-time jobs actually increased marginally in Calgary."

Retail hit hard

Moran said the numbers have shown that there is a gender difference in the losses and gains.

"We know the females were much harder hit, and part of that is reflective of the type of jobs that we lost early and quickly, particularly in hospitality and retail," she said.

"Retail has definitely been hit very significantly, and the return of that is still very unpredictable at this point as we're seeing a slow return to malls, lots of buying online, et cetera. So I think a lot of those people that are looking for part-time jobs in the summer are going to be challenged to find it."

Temp agencies overwhelmed

Sharlene Massie, the founder of temp agency and direct hire agency About Staffing, is watching the job market closely.

"What we've found most recently this month has been that there's kind of a balance between the number of candidates that are really looking seriously, perhaps because they're not on CERB (Canada Emergency Response Benefit) or they didn't qualify for EI or whatever, and those candidates that are not really looking that much anymore," Massie said.

Sharlene Massie, founder of About Staffing, says she expects a surge of job-seekers hitting the market when CERB runs out. (Tracy Johnson/CBC)

"They're waiting it out. So it's kind of interesting. We have quite a diverse group of people either looking or not looking."

Massie said CERB and employment insurance are factors.

"It's unfortunate because I do think that there's going to be a massive amount of applicants that are going to hit the pavement here as soon as CERB is over," she said. 

The type of jobs now available are more likely to be in the service industry or construction, Massie said. 

"Retail sales, those kind of lower-paying positions, things seem to be recovering well," she said. "Other more career-type positions or … the higher paying industries are like, if you're in an office — we're not making gains back there."

The number of applicants has been overwhelming, Massie said.

"We haven't even been posting a number of roles that we're getting in, just because it is overwhelming even for us," she said. "We review resumes and bring in applicants for interviews and then place people, and we can't even manage the number of applicants that are coming in. So it's very difficult for all the employers there."

Competition for jobs

Massie thinks it's only going to get more intense as people start seriously looking for work.

"There's hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, and I do think that come September or October, whatever is going to happen with CERB, that there then will be thousands of applicants for every one job."

Calgarian Bonnie Bradley is one Canadian who knows all too well how long the road back from COVID unemployment can be.

A manager at a systems integration company, she was furloughed in March and went on employment insurance that same month, before being permanently laid off in June.

"I'm concerned about how long I would be unemployed," she said. "I'm applying for jobs, but in my mind so are 1,000 other people for every job that's posted."

Her reaction to hearing a million jobs being added during the month she was laid off was blunt: "That's nice, but I'm still unemployed."

The Statistics Canada labour survey captures conditions between June 14 and June 20.

With files from Helen Pike and Pete Evans


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