A surge in jobseekers boosted Alberta's unemployment rate 0.6 percentage points to 7.5 per cent in March, its highest level since 1996, Statistics Canada reported Friday.
Much of the increase is attributed to the labour force, or those seeking work, growing by those 9,700 people.
That factor overshadowed the fact the province also lost 3,400 jobs in the month. While employment fell by 4,500 full-time jobs, it was partially offset by the gain of 1,100 part-time jobs.
Compared to a year ago, Alberta's labour force has grown by 13,200 people.
Alberta is the only province where employment is below the level of July, when the national recession bottomed out.
It's the third month in a row the rate has risen in Alberta.
"This morning's job report is a disappointment for Alberta, which continues to lag the rest of the country in employment," said ATB Financial senior economist Todd Hirsch.
Different theories emerged Friday on where the new jobseekers who boosted Alberta's unemployment rate came from.
Hirsch said they could be relatives of the unemployed entering the job market.
"Alberta households may still be under some financial stress as total employment is still falling a bit, and part-time work is up. That may be drawing other household members into the job market to help make ends meet," Hirsch said.
Alberta Employment and Immigration Minister Thomas Lukaszuk said most unemployed Albertans are still looking for work and are counted in the labour force, unlike provinces such as Newfoundland, where many jobless have stopped looking for work.
Non-Albertans also continue to migrate to Alberta based on its reputation as an economic hot spot, Lukaszuk said.
"But the bulk of the explanation is the fact that we are just recovering from a recession."
Lukaszuk said he has directed his department in helping Albertans connect with "large numbers of employers looking for workers in this province."
This has included organizing job fairs in employment offices, allowing job postings on the government website and redirecting ministerial spending from attracting outside-of-Canada workers to servicing those already here, he said.
But Alberta Federation of Labour president Gil McGowan said the provincial government was to blame for continuing job losses by not increasing public spending to stimulate growth.
"Stimulative spending has helped keep people working in other provinces, and it's helping to resuscitate the economies in places like the United States and Europe," McGowan said in a statement.
"But the Alberta government continues to cling to the nonsensical notion that the best way to deal with an unemployment problem is to lay more people off."
Alberta's unemployment rate is the third-lowest in Canada behind Saskatchewan at 5.1 per cent and Manitoba at 5.2 per cent.
Edmonton's rate rose 0.5 percentage points to 7.3 per cent. Calgary edged up one-tenth of a percentage point to 7.2 per cent.
Most of the 12,100 jobs lost in Alberta were in educational services; public administration; and professional, scientific and technical services, says Alberta Employment and Immigration.
Goods-producing sectors such as forestry, fishing, mining, oil and gas, manufacturing and construction gained 8,600 jobs.
"While Alberta lost jobs overall, there were gains posted in the three areas of employment hit hardest by last year's recession," Hirsch said.
"Despite the lousy first quarter, jobs are bound to return as the economy gains momentum in the rest of 2010."
Edmonton Journal, Sat Apr 10 2010
Byline: Bill Mah