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Economy Men in Alberta bearing brunt of economic downturn

Nearly 16,000 men in the western province have been laid off from September of 2014 through the end of last year. Meanwhile, 22,800 women have found new positions over the same period, according to Statistics Canada.

TODD KOROL/Reuters

The rout in commodities has hit men harder than women.

Since oil started tumbling in 2014, thousands of men in Alberta have lost their jobs while thousands of women have found work.

Nearly 16,000 men in the western province have been laid off from September of 2014 through the end of last year. Meanwhile, 22,800 women have found new positions over the same period, according to Statistics Canada.

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"You consistently see that men are more affected than women by the downturn in Alberta," said Armine Yalnizyan, senior economist with the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. "This is common in the early part of a recession. Later, the pain spreads from goods-producing industries, typically male-dominated, to ancillary support industries in the service sector, more female dominated," she said.

Over the past year, Albertan men lost jobs in mining, oil and gas, manufacturing, construction, professional scientific and technical services. Women also lost positions in natural resources but secured occupations in wholesale, retail trade, health care and education, according to Statscan. Job gains for women were in lower-paid positions relative to the natural-resources spots.

The disparity between men and women follows the same pattern in other economic downturns.

During the Great Recession, 330,000 men were laid off across Canada compared with 100,000 women. During the recessions of the early 1990s and 1980s, job declines among men dwarfed those among women.

"Job losses during economic downturns are typically more acute for men than for women," said Stephen Tapp, research director with Institute for Research on Public Policy.

"This is largely because layoffs are concentrated in certain sectors of the economy that are more sensitive to the business cycle … and these tend to be male-dominated occupations," he said.

Alberta's job losses last year exceeded those shed during the depths of the 2009 financial crisis. The province's jobless rate is expected to soon surpass the national average and government data show a deep decline among men in the core working age group of 25-54.

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More than 25,000 Albertan men of prime working age lost full-time employment last year. In comparison, nearly 12,000 women of prime working age gained full time jobs. More part-time employment was created for men and part-time jobs fell for women in the province.

Employment agencies in the province have reported a sharp uptick in applicants while job opportunities are limited.

"If they stay in Alberta, they can look for other work. It won't be as well paid and it will be pretty precarious," said Jim Stanford, special adviser to Canadian labour union Unifor. "There will be no automatic transition to new work, and even less well-paid new work."

Wages in the province are dropping amid the downturn. The average weekly pay fell 2.4 per cent to $1,130 in the year ended in November, according to Statscan. The earnings decline has also spread to other parts of Alberta's economy, such as real estate, construction, accommodation and food services.

People are starting to flee Alberta in search of work. The western province was the destination for job seekers when oil was climbing to $100 (U.S.) per barrel. Now. the hot spots are becoming British Columbia and Ontario, economies that are less reliant on natural resources and expected to grow more than 2 per cent this year.

But it is unclear whether these two provinces will prove to be fertile grounds for employment.

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"One of the uncertainties is, is there the demand for labour in the provinces that they are returning to," said David Watt, chief economist with HSBC Bank Canada. "That is one of the key uncertainties for the next year or two years," he said.

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