Saskatoon

Sask.'s 2020 unemployment rate highest in more than 40 years: StatsCan

Saskatchewan's unemployment rate averaged 8.4 per cent in 2020, according to Statistics Canada data. It's a massive increase over the 2019 rate of just 5.6 per cent.

Job numbers won't likely bounce back to pre-pandemic levels for a few years, says economist

Wayne Mock, the mayor of Kerrobert, Sask., his community is facing high unemployment due to COVID-19 and the oil sector downturn. (Jeff McIntosh/Canadian Press)

The mayor of Kerrobert is working to shield his western Saskatchewan community from the twin economic blows of the oil and gas downturn and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wayne Mock knows what it's like to be out of work. The mayor of the small town, 170 kilometres west of Saskatoon, was laid off from his job as a pump technician for an oil service company in July.

"I'm hoping I can get back on soon, but there's not a lot of action. All of our businesses are struggling," Mock said.

Mock's situation, and Kerrobert's, are not unique. Saskatchewan's unemployment rate averaged 8.4 per cent in 2020, according to Statistics Canada data. It's a massive increase over the 2019 rate of just 5.6 per cent.

The 2020 rate is even higher than the downturns of the mid-1980s and early 1990s, when Saskatchewan saw unemployment rates in the seven to eight per cent range — as high as 8.3 per cent in 1993.

But last year's rate is the highest going back as far as 1976, Statistics Canada's data shows. 

University of Saskatchewan economist Joel Bruneau says unemployment rates should drop in the coming months, as COVID-19 vaccination rates increase and restrictions are lifted, but any return to pre-pandemic job numbers could be years away.

"It does take a long time to unwind the crisis. Even though I hope we're going to see a strong rebound over the summer, it just won't be complete," Bruneau said.

Bruneau says a lot will depend on how businesses were able to cope with the pandemic and other economic barriers.

"Any economic phenomenon will have winners and losers. Some companies will be able to innovate and take advantage of the new opportunities. Some companies will not be in a position to do that," he said.

Saskatchewan Federation of Labour president Lori Johb said the pandemic has particularly affected the workers in the service and tourism sectors, predominantly women.

Paid sick leave, child care and other supports would help the economy rebound even faster, she said.

"The current levels are absolutely not adequate. It needs to be addressed now," she said.

Mock hopes governments do what they can to support the resource industry and communities like Kerrobert. (Submitted by Wayne Mock)

When Mock's company merged over the summer to survive, he had the least seniority and was out of work.

He's optimistic he'll be able to return to his job. If not, there are two other projects — a micro-refinery and a hydrogen extraction operation — that hold the promise of dozens of jobs in the next year.

Mock said it's a relief that his wife manages the local health clinic, so they have some steady family income. He hopes governments do what they can to support the resource industry and communities like Kerrobert.

"We're hopeful things will improve," he said.

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