Alberta’s job market defies oil price plunge

THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX:  The rumours of the death of jobs in Alberta have been greatly exaggerated—at least so far. Despite crude oil hovering around $US 55 a barrel in December, our province actually saw a reasonable increase in employment.

According to this morning’s Labour Force Survey, Alberta added 5,700 jobs last month (seasonally adjusted). That’s much better than the job loss that many economists had been anticipating, and right on average for monthly job creation over the entire year. Job quality was excellent too; 8,400 full-time jobs were gained, while 2,700 part-time positions were shed. The unemployment rate ticked up two-tenths of a percentage to 4.7 per cent, well within the range of a healthy job market.

Even more curious about the job numbers is that jobs were stable in the oil and gas sector. As well, a category of employment labelled “professional, scientific and technical” – basically, many of the engineering and geological service providers to the energy sector—added jobs. A sharp drop of 11,000 of these workers in November was partially offset by a gain of 6,600 in December.

Given the nervous tone rippling across Alberta’s economy and announcements of oil companies cutting their capital spending plans, it’s difficult to explain the upbeat job report. It could be, perhaps, that after having spent the last four years desperately trying to attract and retain workers, employers in Alberta aren’t ready yet to hand them a pink slip. How long this extends into 2015 will be interesting to watch.

Todd Hirsch • Chief Economist            January 9, 2015

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