Alberta jobless rate hits 14-year high: Province appears left out of recovery

Alberta lost jobs for the third consecutive month in March as the unemployment rate rose to its highest level in 14 years, figures released Friday show.

Despite signs of an economic rebound, the provincial unemployment rate rose to 7.5 per cent, from 6.9 per cent in February, Statistics Canada reported Friday. That's the highest level since 1996 and another sign Alberta's economic recovery may lag the rest of the country, said one analyst.

"It still looks like we're the ones left out of that recovery despite all the positive news that we've been hearing," said Jacques Marcil, economist with Canada West Foundation, a think-tank based in Calgary, noting higher oil prices and recent announcements of oilsands projects starting to move ahead again.

"The jobs are certainly not materializing."

There were 3,400 fewer jobs in the province last month than in February. More Albertans were also looking for work, pushing up the unemployment rate.
Premier Ed Stelmach said rising unemployment is top of mind for the provincial government.

"We want to, of course, reduce our unemployed numbers and (get) our rates down, so we're going to keep working on that," he said in Calgary.

But Gil McGowan, president of the Alberta Federation of Labour, said other provinces have offset job losses by increasing public spending. Alberta, on the other hand, is cutting public service jobs, he notes.

"The lack of stimulative spending is making the recession deeper and longer than it needed to be," he said in a statement.

Calgary's jobless rate rose to 7.2 per cent in March, from 7.1 per cent the previous month.

More troubling, noted Marcil, is the continued rise in youth unemployment rates, which have more than doubled in the past two years.

"It's really striking," he said. "The 15-19 age group has lost almost 20,000 jobs over that two-year period in Alberta."

Those are typically the young men who have left school to work on rigs, or other oil and gas related jobs, he noted. But even faced with daunting job prospects, they don't appear to be heading back to school or other training.

"The unemployment rate is still quite high; that means they are still looking for work . . . as opposed to going back to school," said Marcil.

Canadian employment continued to rise in March, but at a slower pace than expected, as the country's economic recovery maintained its momentum.

Across the country, Statistics Canada said Friday that 17,900 jobs were created last month, with the unemployment rate remaining at 8.2 per cent. Economists had expected between 20,000 and 26,000 new positions in March and a jobless rate of 8.1 per cent.

The federal agency said the March number brings total job gains since July 2009 to 176,000. In February, 20,900 positions were created and 43,000 were added in January.
BMO Capital Markets economist Benjamin Reitzes said "despite the below consensus gain, Canadian employment has risen in the first three months of 2010, the best string since late 2008."

The biggest job gains in March came in the professional, scientific and technical services sectors, as well as construction and natural resources, Statistics Canada said.
The Canadian economy grew by 0.6 per cent in January, beating forecasts and indicating the pace of recovery will be much stronger than anticipated this year.

The Bank of Canada has projected first-quarter growth of 3.5 per cent, but some economists now say GDP could advance by as much as five per cent during the January-to-March period.

Federal Human Resources Minister Diane Finley said the latest job numbers shows the recovery, while still fragile, is producing more jobs.

"What we are seeing is small, but steady gain in employment across the country," she said Friday.

"We have said all along that the recovery is fragile and so I'm pleased to see steady progress rather than hockey-stick type improvements that could rebound back."

Still, the improving employment picture and the steady recovery from recession could heat up inflation, which is now running at an annual pace of 1.6 per cent. Core inflation -- which strips out volatile items -- stands at 2.1 per cent, above the Bank of Canada's target of two per cent.

The central bank has pledged to keep its trendsetting interest rate at a record low 0.25 per cent until the end of June, unless higher prices begin to pose a threat.

Calgary Herald, Sat Apr 10 2010
Byline: Lisa Schmidt

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