Unemployment is down, but stress level is up
If you know someone is struggling, reach out, Robbie Babins-Wagner says.
Every September, as the leaves start turning and the kids start heading back to school, adults too tend to slip back into a comfortable routine. The fall always feels like a fresh start, a new beginning with all the accompanying optimism. But this year, as the smoke clears from the wildfires in B.C., we see that many people in our community are still struggling to find a job and get back into their work-a-day schedule.
Alberta is continuing to climb out of the brutal recession that saw tens of thousands of people lose their jobs in 2015. At the height of it, in November 2016, the province’s unemployment rate reached nine per cent, the highest jobless rate in 22 years.
Over this past summer, the province’s unemployment rate dipped to 6.5 per cent in June and went up a bit to 6.7 per cent for July and August. This is an improvement over July 2017 when Alberta’s jobless rate was 7.8 per cent. Meanwhile, Canada’s unemployment rate in July was 5.8 per cent, down from last July’s rate of 6.3 per cent. In the coming weeks, Statistics Canada will report on the September job numbers and we’ll see whether the province has gained or lost a few thousand jobs.
At the Calgary Counselling Centre, we also keep track of another set of metrics — the number of people who come to us for help who are unemployed and looking for work and their levels of distress. When Alberta’s economic situation started improving in 2017, we saw fewer people who were unemployed and looking for work. This fall, there are fewer still, but they are in deeper distress.
We keep track of how our clients are managing every time they come to see one of our counsellors. It takes people a few minutes to answer the 45 questions in the Outcome Questionnaire. We ask people to grade things such as their stress, sleep and mood. The higher the score on the questionnaire, the higher the level of distress the person is feeling.
In 2014, before the price of oil plummeted and the waves of layoffs began, the distress level of the people who came to us was 71.8 overall, and 80.5 for those who were unemployed and looking for work. So far in 2018, the average level of distress is 76.9. Those who are unemployed and looking for work are now reporting a distress level of 84 — that’s the highest level of distress we’ve ever seen in this group.
What these numbers tell us is that the longer someone has been out of work the more distressed they’re going to be. These people are neighbours, friends and former colleagues. And as the economic indicators improve, as more Albertans get back to work and get their lives back on track, let’s remember the people who are still struggling and who are feeling more despair.
This September there is more optimism in the crisp fall air than last year. But as the unemployment rate bounces around, experts are continuing to predict that Alberta’s economic recovery will take some more time. At Calgary Counselling Centre, we see the personal toll of this every day. If you think you know someone who is struggling with a long stretch of unemployment, I would encourage you to reach out and offer some support. Tell them about any jobs you may know of and suggest that seeing a counsellor can help them cope with their distress.