May 8, 2023

Weekly EconMinute—April 2023 Labour Force Survey

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about the April 2023 Labour Force Survey.

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Nationally, employment grew +41k (+0.21%) and unemployment held steady (5%) from March to April, bucking expectations of a cooling labour market. The picture in Alberta, however, was different: employment dipped slightly (-1.9k) and unemployment ticked up: from 5.7% to 5.9%.

Job growth has generally been stronger in Alberta over the last year (+3.2% v +2.1%). However, the longer term picture (since COVID) shows Alberta is still in a weaker position, and this month didn’t help that reality. 

Over the last month, growth stalled as gains in full-time jobs (+4.3k) were offset by losses in part-time jobs (-6.3k). Likewise, growth in goods-producing industries (+4.1k) was offset by losses in services industries (-6k). 

Specifically, the province saw jobs added in hospitality and construction—those most directly benefiting from pop growth—but leveled off in others such as business services (which includes businesses that support other businesses in operations/management) as well as trade and finance. 

Despite recent growth, hospitality remains a far cry from its employment level pre-COVID. All told, Alberta now has a very different employment composition than before: 6 industries remain below their pre-COVID levels of employment while 4 have seen growth of over 10%. 

Notably, this has led to a shift from employment in industries related to goods-production (e.g., resources, manufacturing, ag) and an increase in services-related employment—a dynamic seen more acutely than at the national level. 

Regionally, recent jobs gains/losses have helped to close the geographic gap: gains (measured on a 3 month rolling basis) have been centred in Calgary while losses were mainly in Edmonton and Lethbridge. That said, Calgary’s unemployment rate remains higher by a wide margin.

From a demographic perspective, working age men have seen the biggest slip in employment in recent months. As of last October, they were 3% more likely to be working while most recent levels were on-par with pre-COVID levels (which, of note, were weak vs historical norms). 

Over this same time, there has been an uptick in the percentage of working-age men unemployed 3 months or more (from 1.1% to 3.0%). Though longer-term unemployment (out of work 1 year or more) remains in tact, this may be an early sign of a cooling labour market.

Meanwhile, the gap in wage growth persists. Though recent income data show Albertans still earn, on average, a higher income, Labour Force Survey data suggests this gap is closing.

Given this trend has persisted for some time, the financial state of Albertans has eroded more than those elsewhere in the midst of inflation. Nominal wages have increased about 15% over the last couple of years across Canada compared with just 8% in Alberta.

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