Beyond unemployment – COVID-19 impacts employment and hours worked

Part three of a three-part series on Lesser Slave Lake economics.

Pearl Lorentzen
Lakeside Leader

In May 2020, Western Alberta, which includes Slave Lake, High Prairie, and Wabasca, etc. had the highest unemployment rate in Alberta.

The provincial unemployment was a record high of 15.5 per cent, but this is only part of the story.

The unemployment rate only shows part of the story, says a Canadian Labour Economics Forum research paper ‘Initial Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic on the Canadian Labour Market’ in June 2020 by Thomas Lemieux et. al. It compares data from February 2020 and April 2020.

The Alberta economic dashboard says in Alberta in May 2020, there were two million people employed, out of a population of 4.4 million.

“COVID-19 is having an impact beyond employment,” says the Alberta Labour Market Notes. “In May, there were 247,000 Albertans who were employed but did not work during the reference week. This was virtually unchanged from April and 171,900 more than a year ago. The number of Albertans working less than half their usual hours also remained elevated and the year-over-year decline in total hours worked accelerated to 22.3 per cent from 21.7 per cent in April.”

Lemieux et. al’s study looked at employment and hours worked – this includes people furloughed, on sick leave, using vacation time, or having their hours decreased. It found that workers between 20 and 64 years old had a 32 per cent decline in weekly work hours and a 15 per cent decline in employment.

Almost half of the job losses were by people in who earned the least, because of shut downs in ‘public-facing’ sectors like accommodations and food service.

By April 19, 6.73 million Canadians, roughly one-third of the workforce, applied for the Canada Economic Response Benefit, says Lemieux The data in the article is based on the February, March, and April Labour Force Surveys (LFS).

Lemieux et. al. says in February the combined hours of all Albertans working in one week was 75 million. In April, this dropped to 56 million. This is a decrease of 19 million or 25.3 per cent. The overall effect when compared with 2018 data is 27.4 per cent decrease in hours.

The number of people employed for the same period decreased from 2.12 million in February to 1.82 million in April. This is a decrease of 300,000 people, with the total COVID-19 effect a decrease of 15 per cent.

Lemieux et. al divided February wages into four equal categories with the bottom quarter making $646 per week or less.

Almost half of the job losses were in the lowest quarter with (46.7 per cent), says the study.

“For example, sales and services occupations experienced a 45 percent decline in hours and 27 percent decline in employment (representing the largest loss in employment among occupation categories).”

Lemieux et. al. says,“the experience of non-union workers is worsened when combined with other characteristics. For example, we found that women who were non-union and hourly-paid experienced a 44 percent reduction in work hours, and 32 percent reduction in employment.”

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