Un­em­ploy­ment is down, but stress level is up

If you know some­one is strug­gling, reach out, Rob­bie Babins-Wag­ner says.

Calgary Herald - - OPINION - Rob­bie Babins-Wag­ner is CEO of the Cal­gary Coun­selling Cen­tre.

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.

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