Alberta EI recipients double amid mounting job losses

CALGARY -- The number of Albertans receiving employment insurance has doubled in a year, Statistics Canada said Thursday in the latest sign of the province's economic struggles driven by falling oil prices.

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About 62,500 people in the province were on EI in December, up from the 31,200 who were receiving jobless benefits from the same month a year earlier, the federal agency said.

Sean Murray, a 42-year-old father of two preschoolers in Red Lake, Alta., says he's been applying to any job openings he can find after losing his pipefitting job for the second time in December.

"Mining jobs, construction jobs, gravel pit jobs, civil jobs, oilpatch jobs," Murray said. "Like everything and anything."

He said sent out more than 200 resumes but hasn't found work since, so in January he signed on for EI. He says he's getting 22 weeks of support at about $1,000 every two weeks for his family.

"Which just pays for rent, food, and a few bills," he said. "It doesn't cover all my bills, but at least I'm able to have a roof over my head."

Alberta's growing EI numbers in December accounted for about 90 per cent of the 7.3 per cent increase nationally, pushing the total number of EI recipients to 539,800 across Canada.

The province's oil-reliant neighbour Saskatchewan saw a 38 per cent increase in EI compared to December 2014. Newfoundland and Labrador saw an 11 per cent rise, making up much of the rest of the overall national jump.

While the EI numbers have climbed significantly in Alberta, they still only account for 2.5 per cent of the labour force, below the national average of about 2.8 per cent, says University of Calgary economist Trevor Tombe.

"Things are getting worse in Alberta, but they were getting worse from a very good situation," said Tombe.

"The increase in employment insurance claims that we've seen have brought us closer to, but we're still under, the national average. So it's not as though the sky is falling."

He pointed to the 2008-2009 downturn, when Alberta saw EI ranks increase by about 50,000 people.

According to Statistics Canada, there were 20,490 people on EI in September 2008. A year later that soared to 71,100.

Alberta's unemployment rate reached 7.4 per cent in January, up from 4.6 per cent a year earlier. Its the highest unemployment rate for the province in 20 years and the first time since 1988 that Alberta had a higher rate than the national average.



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