The number of employed workers in the Kelowna area continues to plummet, mostly at the hands of pandemic-based restrictions and regulations.
For the past five months, Statistics Canada data has shown the unemployment rate in the Kelowna census metropolitan area (Peachland through Lake Country) to be either stagnant or rising.
But this month, the first we saw COVID-19 measures throughout, it skyrocketed.
StatCan’s most recent report, released May 8, shows the area lost around 5,300 jobs in April, bumping the unemployment rate up 2.2 percentage points to 8.1 per cent. This comes just one month after the region lost 2,000 jobs in March.
The Kelowna CMA has more than 10,000 fewer jobs right now than it did just one year ago in May 2019.
This month’s numbers mark the highest unemployment rate in Kelowna since May 2016 when the rate was 8.8 per cent.
For the whole Thompson-Okanagan region, the unemployment rate sits at 9 per cent, up 1.8 points from March.
Kelowna’s numbers are, however, less severe than both the provincial and national averages.
Finance Minister Carole James said the B.C. economy has lost nearly 400,000 jobs since mid-March when pandemic restrictions were implemented and unemployment shot up to the double digits — 11.5 per cent.
But that number does not include the number of people who stopped looking for work in April as businesses wound down or remained closed, with widespread layoffs.
“This is an incredible jump from before the pandemic, when our unemployment rate was just five per cent, leading the country,” James said.
James said the gradual reopening of businesses announced this week is “a light at the end of the tunnel” for the province, but things could still get worse before they begin to rebound. The B.C. government got approval for a $5 billion pandemic relief fund in a brief sitting of the B.C. legislature in March, and $1.5 billion of that is set aside to help revive the economy.
Statistics Canada reported May 8 that B.C. lost 264,100 jobs in April, when COVID-19 restrictions on movement and business were in force for the first entire month. Across the country, nearly 2 million jobs were lost, prompting the federal government to extend the wage subsidy program beyond June.
According to the StatCan report, Canada lost 1,993,800 jobs through April. Meanwhile, millions more have seen their hours or incomes slashed due to the pandemic slowing and shuttering businesses.
Ottawa’s emergency wage subsidy, which officially launched last week, provides eligible businesses with 75 per cent of wages in order to keep more employees on their payroll, or bring them back if they were temporarily laid off.
“We created that subsidy to protect jobs as much as possible. Since the launch of the program, employers have already applied for the wage subsidy for some two million workers,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Friday.
Canada’s unemployment rate for April would have been 17.8 per cent if the agency’s labour force survey had counted the estimated 1.1 million people who stopped looking for work because the pandemic shutdowns limited job opportunities.
-With files from Tom Fletcher and Ashley Wadhwani
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