EI claimant numbers in Alberta up almost 92 per cent over the past year

Juris Graney, Edmonton Journal

Employment insurance claims continue to climb in Canada with the number of claimants up almost 92 per cent in the 12 months to July.

Just under 100,000 Canadans, or four per cent of the total labour force, claimed EI in July with men making up almost two-thirds of those claiming benefits in this province.

Statistics Canada’s latest data shows Edmonton and Calgary topped the nation in their percentage increases in the number of claims in the past 12 months (72.5 and 96.2 respectively), but economists are cautioning against drawing too many conclusions from the numbers.

Trevor Tombe, assistant professor of economics at the University of Calgary, said prolonged job losses in the oil and gas sector coupled with expanded EI eligibility, automatic renewals, drop in wait times, and longer benefit period were all factors contributing to July’s numbers.

“We have been above the national average in terms of the number of people on EI as a share of the labour force since March, but it just keeps increasing,” Tombe said.

Changes to EI means unemployed workers can claim an extra five weeks of regular benefits up to a maximum of 50 weeks and long-tenured workers can receive an additional 20 weeks up to a maximum of 70 weeks.

Federal government money coming into Canada through EI payments hit $250 million in July, up from $110 million in July 2014, is helping buffer the impact the economic downturn is having on Canada households.

“It certainly means that retail sales will have fallen less because household spending has been buffered a little bit,” Tombe said.

“How that filters down into avoided job losses or affect on GDP is really a tricky kind of question.”

And because EI eligibility and how long benefits last is tied to where people live and not worked, it’s tricky to quantify the impact Canada’s economic downturn is having on Atlantic Canada’s EI statistics, Tombe said.

“It is almost surely increasing the number of EI claims we see elsewhere in the country but we can’t say by how much,” Tombe said.

The number of those aged 55 and over claiming EI in Canada more than doubled in the past 12 months from 4,770 to 10,350.





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