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Alberta job losses last year worst since early 1980s recession: Statscan

Alberta suffered its worst year for employment losses since the dark days of the National Energy Program and early 1980s recession, revised labour figures from Statistics Canada show.

Statscan’s annual revisions of its national Labour Force Survey data ratcheted up Alberta’s job losses last year to 19,600, from the 14,600 the statistical agency originally reported in its final 2015 survey released in early January, as the province’s energy-driven economy buckled under the severe drop in oil prices.

Those losses exceed the 17,000 jobs Alberta shed in the Great Recession in 2009. It’s the worst year since 1982, when the province lost more than 45,000 jobs, amid the double-whammy of a global recession and the notorious NEP, a federal government program that capped prices, raised taxes and dramatically discouraged investment in the oil patch. A deep decline in investment in the sector has again been the key driver of the job losses in the past year.

Alberta ended 2015 with an unemployment rate of 7.1 per cent – up sharply from 4.8 per cent when the year began. It’s the province’s highest unemployment rate in 20 years.

Worse, most of the Alberta revision reflects a downgrade in full-time employment. Alberta lost 51,000 full-time jobs lost last year, compared with the originally reported 44,000, as its economy has buckled under the severe drop in oil prices.

For the entire country, by contrast, the revisions continued to paint a relatively rosy picture for hiring in 2015 – despite sluggish economic growth amid a global commodity slump.

Total job gains for the year were revised only slightly, to 155,400 from the originally reported 158,100. The monthly average job gain was 13,000.

“Not a bad performance, considering the devastation brought by the oil shock,” said National Bank Financial senior economist Krishen Rangasamy in a research note.

The natural resource sectors shed 23,000 jobs last year – including nearly 21,000 in Alberta alone. On the other hand, manufacturers added 37,000 jobs, and services-producing side of the economy added 172,000 positions.

In Ontario, where the decline of the Canadian dollar has been lending support to its non-resource export base, the Statscan revisions increased the job count for the year. The country’s most populous province added 84,500 jobs in 2015, revised up from 80,700. The entire revision came in full-time jobs, which surged 146,000 last year.

The divergence between Canada’s resource-intensive and non-resource-intensive provinces is expected to be a major theme for the national economy again in 2016.

In new provincial forecasts published Tuesday, Toronto-Dominion Bank projected that Alberta’s economy will contract by another 0.3 per cent this year, after shrinking an estimated 1.2 per cent last year. Newfoundland and Labrador, another oil-intensive province, is expected to contract by 1 per cent in 2016, on top of a 2.1-per-cent drop in 2015. But the bank projects growth in Ontario of 2.2 per cent, far above its forecast national average of 1.5 per cent. It expects British Columbia to lead the country in growth this year, at 2.5 per cent.

TD also projected that Alberta’s employment to shrink by another 1.2 per cent this year – the equivalent of about 27,000 jobs.

“Alberta’s recession is expected to deepen in the first half of 2016, pushing the unemployment rate towards 7.5 per cent – a rate which exceeds the peak recorded in the 2008-2009 recession,” the TD report said.

Statscan’s annual revisions update its Labour Force Survey data going back to the start of 2013. They include revisions of its seasonal adjustments, as well updates to job classifications.

For December, the national month-to-month job gains were left unchanged at 22,800. But the revisions tilted the ledger even more in favour of part-time employment than was originally reported in early January. Part-time jobs increased 32,400 (up from the originally reported 29,200), while full-time employment fell 9,600 (versus a 6,400 decline in the initial report).

The unemployment rate was unchanged at 7.1 per cent, while the participation rate remained at 65.9 per cent.

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