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Saturday, February 11, 2006

Alberta Unemployment Rate Drops to Lowest in 24 Years

According to an article in the Edmonton Journal today, the unemployment rate is the second lowest on record, and the lowest it's been in 24 years. It now sits at 3.5% - the lowest it's ever been was 3.3% in 1981.

"It's a wonderful time for many workers," said Ian Glassford, chief financial officer at Capital City Savings. "Young people have the opportunity to build careers."

"I don't think you can expect it to go much lower," said economist Dianne Keefe, with Keefe Taylor & Associates management consultants.

Three per cent may be only "frictional unemployment" of people who are changing jobs, she said.

"Alberta is the poster child for what a red-hot economy looks like," according to CIBC World Markets Inc. economists Warren Lovely and Leslie Preston, who believe the province will enjoy economic leadership for years to come and post a seven-per-cent expansion this year.

"Persistently high oil and gas prices mean Alberta's economic edge should prove much more lasting than the one it saw in the late 1970s (and) early 1980s," the economists predict. Unemployment rose after 1981, reaching more than 11.1 per cent in 1985.

"Alberta's growth advantage will be equally pronounced in 2007 ... a province-leading six-per-cent gain ... and above-average growth further out," according to CIBC.

Over the past 12 months, Alberta gained 39,700 jobs -- for a total of 1,780,200.

"The economy is being driven by oil and gas investments," said Bob Ascah, vice president of research and analysis at ATB Financial.

The energy sector itself gained 8,400 jobs.

But the planning for Alberta energy projects creates work for professional, scientific and technical services -- which gained 25,500 jobs in the past year.

Energy projects require construction, which "flows into fabrication and transportation," he said.

And workers in those sectors buy hotel rooms and restaurant meals. The projects also require real estate, banking and insurance services.

While 40,000 jobs are welcome, the low unemployment rate also reflects slow growth in Alberta's labour force, as the province struggles to attract immigrants.

"One thing that drives immigration is relative unemployment rates," Keefe said.

With seasonally adjusted unemployment of only 6.6 per cent across Canada, and a strong British Columbia economy, many workers have little reason to move to Alberta.

"And we do not attract a high percentage of international immigrants," Keefe said.

"There seem to be more jobs being created than filled," Ascah agreed.

He said one problem is that immigrant engineers and other foreign professionals face obstacles in applying for Alberta credentials.

While Canada gained 269,000 jobs in the past 12 months, the goods-producing sector actually declined.

Manufacturing shed more than 120,000 jobs.

"That's largely a result of the high Canadian dollar," Glassford said.

Alberta manufacturers lost 14,200 jobs but Glassford thinks their future is strong because, unlike central Canadian manufacturers, they do not face foreign competition in a time of a high Canadian dollar.

"Many of our manufacturers are energy-related."

Edmonton had 4.3 per cent unemployment in January, compared to 2.3 per cent in northwest Alberta and 4.4 per cent in Calgary.

Over the past year, Alberta aboriginal people living off-reserve held 62,700 jobs -- well up from 55,300 one year earlier.

As more aboriginal people entered the workforce, their unemployment rate rose to 10.6 per cent from 9.4 per cent.

rchalmers@thejournal.canwest.com

BACK IN 1981 ...

The last time Alberta posted a lower unemployment rate was in August 1981. Here are some other things that happened that year:

- Alberta government raises minimum wage by 30 cents to $3.50 an hour (Current rate is $7 an hour).
- West Edmonton Mall opens doors for first time.
- Federal energy minister Marc Lalonde, in referring to the battle between Alberta and Ottawa over energy pricing, says: "It has become a shootout between the good guys and the bad guys, a struggle between the forces of darkness and light, a battle between right and wrong."
- Edmonton's food bank, the first in Canada, is incorporated.

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