Workers in more than half of Alberta households are still laid off, work fewer hours, or receive reduced pay due to COVID-19, according to a new survey.
An Ipsos poll found 53 per cent of Albertans are still experiencing disruption to either their own work, or that of someone else in their household.
Reg Warkentin, policy and advocacy manager with the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce, said employment data is better than it was a month ago.
More employers are hiring back staff in the Red Deer area, home and commercial property sales are on the rise, work is progressing on the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion, which is a great incentive for the oil and gas sector, and ground has been broken on Red Deer’s new courthouse.
“There are quite a few green shoots and bits of positive news coming out that should give central Albertans plenty of reason to be optimistic. But the data does really underline the importance of getting the economy back to something close to business as usual as soon as possible,” Warkentin said.
The poll, conducted Sept. 1 to 3, showed one in five, or 22 per cent of Albertans, are currently working reduced hours or receiving reduced pay, while 17 per cent say that someone in their household is experiencing the same situation.
One in 10 Albertans, or about 443,000, said that they’ve had to postpone payments on bills, credit cards and taxes.
Donna Carson, a licensed insolvency trustee with MNP Ltd., which sponsored the poll, said as creditors begin looking to collect deferred payments, and short-term financial relief comes to an end, many people will find their pre-pandemic debt problems compounded.
“While we have yet to see evidence that proves Albertans have taken on significantly more debt since March, it seems like some will be forced to rely on credit when government relief and deferral measures run out.
“The problem here is that they will be borrowing against future paycheques, and that leaves a hole in the next paycheque. And so begins a cycle that is very difficult to get out of,” Carson said in a statement.
Carson said that historic low-interest rates may give some a false sense of security that will result in increased borrowing. With the end of eviction moratoriums, those who are most vulnerable may turn to high-interest credit.
Warkentin said the economic challenges underscore the importance of business and job-friendly policy from all three levels of government, and said that’s something the chamber is going to keep advocating for.
He said the economic improvement is expected to be gradual for Alberta, unlike the quick rebound after the 2009 downturn, but said central Albertans’ businesses are resilient and resourceful and will find a way to make it work.
Community agencies such as the Red Deer Food Bank are available for those in need.
Alice Kolisnyk, the food bank’s deputy director, said people who never expected to need assistance have sought help during the pandemic.
“It’s a completely new scenario for them, being laid off from a job that has been pretty stable in the past,” Kolisnyk said.
She said in March, the food bank experienced a dramatic increase in clients.
“People were definitely panicking. They weren’t sure what to expect when everything started shutting down.”
She said demand dropped when Canadian Emergency Response Benefits arrived, but jumped again in mid-August.
Thankfully, shelves are stocked at the food bank.
“The community has always been very supportive and have stepped up to the plate as usual. We’re in a good position to keep feeding people.”
The annual fall Helping Hands Food Drive will be held virtually this year. People can donate money through canadahelps.org or drop off food donations at their local grocery store.