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Women led Alberta’s economic recovery in 2018

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Female employment in Alberta is rapidly rising, as are average earnings. Today, more Alberta women in their prime working years are participating in the labour market than ever before.

In our fast-approaching election, the economy and jobs will be central issues.

Is our economy strong, or is it weak? Is the recession ongoing, or is recovery underway? Simple questions, but the answers are complex.

Overall, the economy is indeed growing and the recession is over. But not everyone experiences recovery in the same way. 

There are deep pockets of pain for some, but areas of genuine strength for others. And there’s perhaps no greater strength in Alberta’s recovery today than recent employment gains among women.

In short, Alberta women led the recovery through 2018.

That’s worth celebrating.

Gains by gender

Every month, thousands of Albertans start a new job while thousands of others lose one. There’s a constant churn of flows in and out. But by the end of 2018, over 21,000 more Albertans had jobs than one year earlier. 

For the economy as a whole, this isn’t a large gain — and it was barely above what was necessary to keep pace with population growth.

But when you split the gains by gender, the data tells a whole other story.

As I show below, roughly 23,000 more women were employed at the end of 2018 than were employed one year earlier. This more than accounts for the province’s total employment gain.

The gains for women in their prime working years, 25 to 54, were especially strong.

During the recession, we saw the share of women aged 25 to 54 with jobs fall from just over 77 per cent to a low of 75 per cent. 

But today, nearly 80 per cent of women in that group are employed — a significant increase. One has to go back to the 1990s to find an improvement in employment rates this large or this rapid.

To be clear, the economy is not a zero-sum game. Gains to one set of workers do not imply losses to another.

During the recession, job losses for men were larger than those for women, as oil and gas, construction, and so on, are male-dominated sectors. Now, during the recovery, gains elsewhere in the economy, in other sectors, are disproportionately benefiting women.

Where are the jobs?

These are broad-based gains that reflect a genuinely strong labour market. Employment in health and social services is up significantly, with nearly 23,000 more women employed there than one year ago.

But the majority of these are private-sector jobs or self-employed women operating their own businesses.

Female employment is up by 9,000 last year in business support services. Manufacturing and transport/warehousing are each employing nearly 6,000 more women than one year ago. In professional and scientific services, the number is up 3,500.

Overall, more than 90 per cent of the gains were in the private sector.

Earnings are up too. 

In 2018, the average weekly earnings for women were nearly $38 higher than in 2017 and $52 higher than in 2016.

That means women made on average about $2,700 more in 2018 compared to 2016.

Actively looking

Given such strength, more women are joining the labour force and looking for work. Many, many more.

Roughly five in six women aged 25 to 54 either have a job or are actively looking for one. This is a larger share participating in the labour market than at any point in Alberta’s history.

This matters. A lot.

Not only because these gains for women represent roughly 40,000 more individuals now searching for jobs, gaining employment, and earning income as a result, but also because it’s an important positive development in the provincial economy as a whole — and one you may not have heard of before.

It should change the way we see the recovery.

Though weak for some, the recovery is indeed strong for many others.

It’s also important because it reveals why one common indicator of recovery — the unemployment rate — shouldn’t be taken at face value.

In December, 5.8 per cent of Alberta’s prime-aged women were unemployed — barely lower than the 6.2 per cent one year earlier. But, and however counterintuitive this may sound, that isn’t a sign of weakness, and it is consistent with the strong gains displayed above.

We only count those who are looking for work as unemployed.

If more people join the labour force and begin looking, the unemployment rate naturally goes up. But that’s a good thing. I estimate that, had the participation rate for Alberta women aged 25 to 54 remained unchanged, their unemployment rate today would have been closer to an impressive 3.5 per cent — better than before the recession.

What this means for Alberta

None of this is to say Alberta’s economic situation is rosy, or that all women are seeing an improved labour market. 

The gains are larger in Edmonton than in Calgary, for example, and are exclusively among those with more than a high school diploma. Employment is down for both men and women among those with only high school education or less.

And young workers face the largest challenges.

Last March, I highlighted their difficult situation, and it hasn’t yet improved. Today, if the recession never happened, roughly 40,000 more Albertans would have a job. Young workers ages 15 to 24 account for three quarters of this.

These challenges deserve attention, of course. If we’re to have any hope of addressing them, we must understand where they are. But Alberta’s large and complex economy is not uniformly strong or weak.

It’s neither. It’s both.

Despite real challenges, there is much going well. For Alberta women in particular, recent gains are very real and worth celebrating.


This column is an opinion. For more information about our commentary section, please read this editor’s blog and our FAQ.


Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary’s special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca

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Anglais

‘Business as usual’ for Dorel Industries after terminating go-private deal

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MONTREAL — Dorel Industries Inc. says it will continue to pursue its business strategy going forward after terminating an agreement to go private after discussions with shareholders.

« Moving ahead. Business as usual, » a spokesman for the company said in an email on Monday.

A group led by Cerberus Capital Management had previously agreed to buy outstanding shares of Dorel for $16 apiece, except for shares owned by the family that controls the company’s multiple-voting shares.

But Dorel chief executive Martin Schwartz said the Montreal-based maker of car seats, strollers, bicycles and home furniture pulled the plug on a deal on the eve of Tuesday’s special meeting after reviewing votes from shareholders.

“Independent shareholders have clearly expressed their confidence in Dorel’s future and the greater potential for Dorel as a public entity, » he said in a news release.

Dorel’s board of directors, with Martin Schwartz, Alan Schwartz, Jeffrey Schwartz and Jeff Segel recused, unanimously approved the deal’s termination upon the recommendation of a special committee.

The transaction required approval by two-thirds of the votes cast, and more than 50 per cent of the votes cast by non-family shareholders.

Schwartz said enhancing shareholder value remains a top priority while it stays focused on growing its brands, which include Schwinn and Mongoose bikes, Safety 1st-brand car seats and DHP Furniture.

Dorel said the move to end the go-private deal was mutual, despite the funds’ increased purchase price offer earlier this year.

It said there is no break fee applicable in this case.

Montreal-based investment firm Letko, Brosseau & Associates Inc. and San Diego’s Brandes Investment Partners LP, which together control more than 19 per cent of Dorel’s outstanding class B subordinate shares voiced their opposition to the amended offer, which was increased from the initial Nov. 2 offer of $14.50 per share.

« We believe that several minority shareholders shared our opinion, » said Letko vice-president Stephane Lebrun, during a phone interview.

« We are confident of the long-term potential of the company and we have confidence in the managers in place.”

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Anglais

Pandemic funds helping Montreal businesses build for a better tomorrow

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Many entrepreneurs have had to tap into government loans during the pandemic, at first just to survive, but now some are using the money to better prepare their businesses for the post-COVID future.

One of those businesses is Del Friscos, a popular family restaurant in Dollard-des-Ormeaux that, like many Montreal-area restaurants, has had to adapt from a sit-down establishment to one that takes orders online for takeout or delivery.

“It was hard going from totally in-house seating,” said Del Friscos co-owner Terry Konstas. “We didn’t have an in-house delivery system, which we quickly added. There were so many of our employees that were laid off that wanted to work so we adapted to a delivery system and added platforms like Uber and DoorDash.”

Helping them through the transition were emergency grants and low-interest loans from the federal and provincial governments, some of which are directly administered by PME MTL, a non-profit business-development organization established to assist the island’s small and medium-sized businesses.

Konstas said he had never even heard of PME MTL until a customer told him about them and when he got in touch, he discovered there were many government programs available to help his business get through the downturn and build for the future. “They’ve been very helpful right from day one,” said Konstas.

“We used some of the funds to catch up on our suppliers and our rents, the part that wasn’t covered from the federal side, and we used some of it for our new virtual concepts,” he said, referring to a virtual kitchen model which the restaurant has since adopted.

The virtual kitchen lets them create completely different menu items from the casual American Italian dishes that Del Friscos is known for and market them under different restaurant brand names. Under the Prasinó Soup & Salad banner, they sell healthy Greek options and their Stallone’s Sub Shop brand offers hearty sandwiches, yet the food from both is created in the same Del Friscos kitchen.

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Anglais

Downtown Montreal office, retail vacancies continue to rise

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Some of downtown Montreal’s key economic indicators are heading in the wrong direction.

Office and retail vacancies in the city’s central core continued to climb in the fourth quarter of 2020, according to a quarterly report released Thursday by the Urban Development Institute of Quebec and the Montréal Centre-Ville merchants association. The report, whose first edition was published in October, aims to paint a socio-economic picture of the downtown area.

The survey also found office space available for sublet had increased during the fourth quarter, which may foreshadow even more vacancies when leases expire. On the residential front, condo sales fell as new listings soared — a sign that the downtown area may be losing some of its appeal to homeowners.

“It’s impossible not to be preoccupied by the rapid increase in office vacancies,” Jean-Marc Fournier, the former Quebec politician who now heads the UDI, said Thursday in an interview.

Still, with COVID-19 vaccinations set to accelerate in the coming months, “the economic picture is bound to improve,” he said. “People will start returning downtown. It’s much too early to say the office market is going to disappear.”

Public health measures implemented since the start of the pandemic almost a year ago — such as caps on office capacity — have deprived downtown Montreal of more than 500,000 workers and students. A mere 4,163 university and CEGEP students attended in-person classes in the second quarter, the most recent period for which figures are available. Border closures and travel restrictions have also brought tourism to a standstill, hurting hotels and thousands of local businesses.

Seventy per cent of downtown workers carried out their professional activities at home more than three days a week during the fourth quarter, the report said, citing an online survey of 1,000 Montreal-area residents conducted last month.

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