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Alberta lost 20,000 public sector jobs before the pandemic

During the pandemic, the public sector lost 3.5 times as many jobs as the private sector, proportionately speaking.

Earlier this month, I reported on Alberta’s employment numbers, as reported by Statistics Canada. Part of what I wrote included:

Alberta’s private sector grew by 17,800 between August and September, but there were still 137,000 fewer private sector jobs than this time last year. Public sector jobs were up by 29,600 over August but lower than September 2019 by 3,700. Self employed jobs were down by 9,100 over August and 1,900 lower than they were in September 2019.

And I’ve been thinking about these numbers.

This past March, I reported on how Alberta has lost over 52,000 full-time jobs since the UCP implemented their first corporate income tax cut last year.

And I was curious how that broke down by sector. So, I combed through the data for Alberta in one of Statistics Canada’s tables. and this is what I found.

Jun 2019Sep 2020Difference
Public sector458,900452,600-6,300
Private sector1,542,0001,393,900-148,100
Self-employed353,800357,5003,700
Total2,354,7002,204,000-150,700

Keep in mind that these are all jobs, not just full-time jobs. And between the month before the first tax cut and last month, Alberta lost over 150,000 jobs, both full-time and part-time.

As well, this includes jobs lost during the pandemic. So how do the numbers look leading up to February 2020, the month before the shutdown?

Jun 2019Feb 2020Difference
Public sector458,900439,900-19,000
Private sector1,542,0001,519,600-22,400
Self-employed353,800370,40016,600
Total2,354,7002,329,900-24,800

It seems to me that if we exclude jobs lost during the pandemic, Alberta saw a net loss of just under 25,000 jobs, a far cry from 150,000 lost jobs.

Remember, however, that I said there were over 52,000 full-time workers how became unemployed between the same period. That means that there must have been a bunch of part-time jobs created to get the total jobs to half that number.

If we look at the two tables, we notice a few things:

  • There were roughly 3 times as many public sector jobs lost before the pandemic than if you included pandemic numbers.
  • The private sector losses were about 1/6 the size before the pandemic than they were during.
  • Even though self-employed workers saw gains both before and during the pandemic, the gains were 4.5 times larger prior to the pandemic.

So, in actuality, of the 3 sectors, only public sector workers were worse off prior to the pandemic than they have been during it. The other two groups were either growing or not losing as much as they have during the pandemic.

Here is what the job numbers look like for the 3 sectors when graphed:

Let’s looks through these.

All 3 sectors lost jobs during the pandemic.

Self-employed jobs, for example, were at their lowest level of the pandemic last month, dropping to 357,500 from 370,400 in February. That being said, at one point, self-employed workers shot up to 376,100 this past May, the highest point since December 2018, when it was 389,800.

And that sort of makes sense.

Some people, after losing their jobs in the public and private sectors, would’ve tried making a living on their own. However, the number of self-employed workers have dropped every month since then as people have returned to work, and they’re back to pretty much where they were a year ago.

Private sector jobs hit their lowest point in April, when they dropped to 1,186,600, a loss of 333,000 since February. Given that the private sector employs the most workers (even more than the other two combined), it’d make sense that they’d lose the largest number of workers during the pandemic, especially as everything shut down. But keep in mind that 333,000 is 2.2% of 1,519,600, which is a smaller drop—proportionally— than the 3.5% drop the self-employed sector saw during the pandemic.

Public sector jobs didn’t escape the pandemic’s effects either. There were 439,900 public sector workers in Alberta in February, but they went as low as 404,800 by the end of May. That drop in 35,100 public sector jobs was actually 7.98%, more than twice the rate of the self-employed sector jobs losses and over 3.5 times as much as the private sector, proportionately speaking.

Here’s a table.

February 2020Lowest
pandemic
numbers
Difference% change
Public sector439,900404,800-35,100-7.98%
Self-employed370,400357,500-12,900-3.61%
Private sector1,519,6001,186,600-333,000-2.19%

So while the private sector saw the largest drop in total number of jobs, the public sector saw the largest percentage of job losses.

The good news is that both the private sector and public sector are recovering, at least in terms of job numbers.

Last month, the private sector was at 1,393,900 workers employed, which is 207,300 jobs more than when the sector bottomed out in May, but it’s still short of the 1.5 million it had just before the pandemic hit.

The public sector, at 452,600 is actually now higher than it was in February. So, that’s cool. In fact, it shot up nearly 30,000 from where it was in August. That could be related to school being in, but it’s hard to say how significant of a role that played without seeing more data.

Now all that being said, there are a couple of things to remember: Both the private and public sectors were seeing dropping numbers of workers leading up to February. That means that even though the pandemic is to blame for much of the huge job losses over the last 7 months, it can’t carry all the blame.

For example, between at least April 2018 and right before the Job Creation Tax Cut, the private sector saw consistent—although slow—job growth, increasing from 1,476,600 jobs in April 2018 to 1,542,00 in June 2019. But since June 2019, the numbers kept dropping, except for a 0.03% increase last September and a 1.2% bump the next month. By the time February rolled around, the private sector had already lost 22,400 jobs—both part-time and full-time.

In other words, before the lockdown, the private sector had already lost about 1.5% of its workforce. The pandemic simply made an already declining workforce worse.

But what about the public sector?

In June 2019, the month before the UCP government cut the corporate income tax rate, the public sector sat at 458,900 jobs. It had been slowly but steadily climbing throughout 2018 and the first half of 2019. But starting with the month the tax cut was brought in, public sector jobs started to dwindle, and by February 2020—right before the shutdown, the public sector had lost nearly 20,000 jobs. That works out to be about 4.1% of their jobs lost.

Heck, the public sector was down nearly 10,000 jobs from even the previous February.

So, on the one hand, a good chunk of those jobs are back. Last month, public sector jobs were at 452,600, its highest level since the previous September and about 30,000 more than the previous month. It’s possible that this corresponded to both the ongoing economic recovery and the return to school. That being said, September 2020 still had 3,700 jobs fewer than September 2019.

On the other hand, with government confirming the loss of nearly 1,000 workers over the next 6 months and with them privatizing 10,000 health care positions, it’s not clear that this increase will be anything more than an anomalous blip.

You can see the data, including interactive charts, here.

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By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 5 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left. I recently finished writing a book debunking several capitalism myths. My newest book writing project is on the labour history of Lethbridge.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

2 replies on “Alberta lost 20,000 public sector jobs before the pandemic”

So if I provide services to the government as a government employee, then my job is considered to be a public sector job. But if I provide services to the government as an employee of a for-profit corporation that has a contract to provide services to the government, then my job is considered to be a private sector job, even though my salary (plus the for-profit corporation’s overhead and profit) is still funded entirely by the government. Interesting.

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