Canadians getting jobless benefits up in July, Alberta still weak

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The number of Canadians receiving regular unemployment benefits rose in July, including in oil-sensitive Alberta, with increases seen nationally among trade and construction workers, data from Statistics Canada showed on Thursday.

People wait in line for resume critique and career assessment sessions at the 2014 Spring National Job Fair and Training Expo in Toronto, April 3, 2014. REUTERS/Aaron Harris

There were 10,450 more people receiving employment insurance benefits in the month, a 2.0 percent increase from June. Compared to the year before, those receiving benefits increased by 36,130, or 7.1 percent.

In Alberta, where oil companies having been laying off workers in response to the slump in crude prices, the number of beneficiaries rose by 950, or 1.8 percent, to 52,660. Since last July when the oil downturn was just starting, the number of Albertans receiving benefits has surged 72.2 percent.

Still, Alberta’s July increase was less than the more than 3 percent increases seen in the provinces of British Columbia and Ontario.

“If there is any surprise with the numbers out this morning, it is that the increase wasn’t even greater,” Todd Hirsch, chief economist at ATB Financial, said of July’s figures.

The pattern so far looks similar to the downturn that hit Alberta six years ago, when the number of people receiving benefits spiked suddenly after a long period of stability, Hirsch wrote in a note.

“If a similar pattern occurs this time around, we can expect the number of recipients to continue to rise in the coming months - perhaps rising back to 70,000 or even higher,” he said.

Oil-exporting Canada was in a mild recession in the first half of the year, but economists and policy makers expect the economy to pick up over the rest of 2015. The Bank of Canada has cut interest rates twice this year to boost the economy and is widely expected to stand pat for now.

Nationally, workers whose last job had been in the trades, transport and equipment operators and related occupations led July’s increase, rising by 4,060. Within that category, construction trades saw an increase in benefits of 1,340.

However, in a potentially encouraging sign, the number of employment insurance claims dropped by 12.6 percent to 229,220 in July. The number of claims gives an indication as to the number of people who could become beneficiaries.

Reporting by Leah Schnurr; Editing by David Gregorio