Quarter One 2018 in Alberta

With the first quarter of 2018 behind us, it’s time to look at the province’s economic performance.

Year over year, Alberta created over 46,000 full-time jobs, up 2.5 per cent. 15,000 new jobs in manufacturing and 14,000 jobs in oil and gas, led the way. But finding a job isn’t easy.  It takes an average of 22 weeks to find a job in Alberta – the longest in Canada.

The trend-line in the unemployment rate shows a slow but steady decline.  Employment insurance claims declined by 26% year over year, but some of the decline is a result of claimants running out of eligibility. The provincial unemployment rate is 6.3%, but the Calgary rate is at 8.2%.

There are a couple of disquieting facts hidden in the statistics.

  • The unemployment rate for younger men is higher than average, a sign that the oil patch isn’t all that healthy.
  • Alberta Works is a welfare program for people who are able to work but are unemployed, with no other sources of income.  In 2015, before the recession, about 9,500 single, unemployed people were on the caseload. But today, that number is over 21,000.  If you are eligible for the program you get $674 per month.

Wage levels in the oil and gas sector are strong – weekly earnings in the range of $2,300 per week. It seems that the energy sector dealt with the downturn mostly by reducing jobs, not wages.  At the other end of the scale, part-time and entry level retail workers earn only about $615 per week.

Interprovincial migration registered its first positive quarter since June of 2015, the net increase was  2,200 more people coming to Alberta. And new vehicle sales have rebounded, up over 10% year over year and we are approaching the Canadian average on a per capita basis.

Business optimism is on the rise. About 66% of businesses surveyed, believe things will be better in the next 6 months.

Oil price has improved from the low of $26/ barrel (WTI) in 2016.  Oil is trading in the $55-$65 US/ barrel range these days.  The discount for bitumen-based oil is from $20 to sometimes, $30/barrel – a function of its lower quality and pipeline constraints. On average, the benchmark price for Western Canadian Select (WCS), a bitumen blend,  was only $37/ barrel for 2017.