The Red Deer region’s unemployment rate hit 14 per cent in July, nearly double what it was one year ago.
That is up from 13.4 per cent in June and 7.4 per cent in July 2019.
The cause of the region’s high numbers is no secret.
“What we’re seeing is really the culmination of the perfect storm of an already weak economy being hammered by the coronavirus, along with weak energy prices, and what is largely an uncompetitive business environment that has resulted in a flight of capital from Canada,” said Reg Warkentin, policy and advocacy manager for the Red Deer & District Chamber of Commerce.
“For better and worse, central Alberta remains incredibly reliant on the prosperity of the oil and gas sector,” said Warkentin.
“When times are good for the energy industry, times will be exceptionally good for the central Alberta economy.
“Unfortunately, the inverse is true.”
There are hopeful signs that the downturn is going to start heading in the right direction.
“The good news is that worldwide demand for energy products is expected to increase until 2040,” he said.
“Pipeline capacity will be expanded, making us more competitive. At the same time, our economy is diversifying, making us less reliant on oil and gas.”
Warkentin said he’s heard about local companies that have found ways to innovate and diversify their revenue stream to weather the economic storm.
“The silver lining in the employment data is that while the overall unemployment rate is up, there are 1,200 more people working in our region than there were a month ago.”
A sign of how bleak the overall job picture is, Red Deer’s unemployment rate ranks it only fourth worse among the province’s seven economic regions.
Edmonton leads with 15.5 per cent unemployment, according to the Alberta Labour Force Statistics report released on Friday.
Calgary follows at 14.9 per cent and Banff-Jasper-Rocky Mountain House and Athabasca-Grande Prairie-Peace River at 14.4 per cent. Camrose-Drumheller (13.1), Wood Buffalo-Cold Lake (12) and Lethbridge-Medicine Hat (9.5) round out the regions.
Alberta’s July unemployment rate fell last month to 12.8 per cent from 15.5 per cent in June. In July 2019, unemployment was at seven per cent.
However, the year-over-year statistics show how hard hit the area has been.
There were about 104,100 working in Red Deer region last month, down 7,200 from a year ago.
“It is a significant change,” said Vincent Ferrao, a Statistics Canada labour force survey analyst.
The natural resources sector was the hardest hit, followed by manufacturing and sales.
“The declines are split full time and part time,” said Ferrao.
Nationwide, Alberta had the second highest unemployment rate in the country, following only perennial unemployment leader Newfoundland.
The national unemployment rate was 10.9 per cent, down from 12.3 per cent a month earlier. In July 2019, Canada’s unemployment rate was 5.7 per cent.
While unemployment in Alberta is high, the province has added jobs in each of the past three months — 28,000 in May, 92,000 in June and 67,000 in July.
“However, the province has lost about 361,000 in the first two months of the pandemic,” said Ferrao.
Of the 67,000 jobs added last month, 30,400 were full time and 36,900 were part time.
The wholesale and retail sector led the way with 14,600 jobs, followed by accommodation and food services with 14,300. Construction also added 8,800 jobs.
“That has a lot to do with the reopening of the economy,” Ferrao said. “Those sectors were closed initially or could only do partial services.”