January 10, 2022

Weekly EconMinute—December 2021 Labour Force Survey

In this week’s EconMinute, we’re talking about December’s Labour Force Survey.

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2022 is here, and we’re breaking down Alberta’s last Labour Force Survey for 2021.

Bottom line: recovery was lukewarm in December, as full-time jobs and long-term unemployment improved, but the sectors and workers who have been hurt most across the pandemic continue to struggle.

Canada’s employment increased by ~55,000 (+0.3%) in December and ~11,000 in Alberta (0.5%), putting Alberta 0.8% points below pre-COVID rate of employment while Canada is just 0.3% below. #abpoli #abecon

Across provinces, Alberta’s recovery—as measured by the employment rate—is in line with other large provinces like Ontario and Quebec, while BC is closest to a full recovery, and has been in this position for many months now.

Alberta’s unemployment rate continued to fall steadily, dropping from 7.6% to 7.3%, while the participation rate remains little changed at 69.3%. That means about 70% of the working-age population in Alberta was either working or looking for work—the highest rate in Canada.

The modest improvement in Alberta’s employment numbers was driven entirely by full-time positions, which increased by 16,000 (compared with a drop of 5,000 in part-time positions). This was also the case in Ontario and Saskatchewan.

From an industry perspective, there were large gains in health care, in addition to further recovery in the accommodation & food services industry. Construction also saw some improvement in December, as new residential and major project activity drove hiring numbers up.

Despite growth, weaknesses remain. Hard hit service industries remain 15-20% below pre-COVID employment—slightly worse than other large provinces—and December’s survey was done before the impact of Omicron. Additionally, agriculture & manufacturing also maintain lower employment levels.

Perhaps the best news from Friday’s update is the continued decline in Alberta’s long-term unemployment, decreasing from its April 2021 peak at 3% to December’s 2021 rate at 1.3%. Still, this rate remains high compared to historical norms and other provinces, and there is still a long way to go.

Furthermore, though we have seen several good signs over the past few months, uncertain times are ahead as Omicron cases surge, adding to existing complications like supply chains bottlenecks, and labour shortages in certain jobs and industries.

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