Unemployment more than 10 per cent in city

One in ten workers in Prince George is out of work, according to data released by Statistics Canada on Friday.

The city's unemployment rate in April rose to 10.1 per cent, up from 8.8 per cent in March and 7.6 per cent in February. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has hit workers and businesses across the province hard, B.C. Finance Minister Carole James said on Friday.

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B.C.'s unemployment rate hit 11.5 per cent in April, up from 7.2 per cent a month earlier.

"The personal and economic pain of COVID-19 is unprecedented in our lifetime," James said. "We were at five per cent unemployment when we were bringing our budget in in February. To see, in just such a short period of time, that amount of job losses is staggering."

More than 400,000 applications for the province's one-time, $1,000 benefit for workers who've lost work because of the pandemic have been processed, James said. The province began taking applications on May 1.

The hardest-hit sectors of the provincial economy were food services, retail sales and trade, James said.

Nationally, Canada's unemployment rate hit 13 per cent in April, up from 7.8 per cent in March.

B.C. lost more than 296,000 jobs in April alone, and has shed 396,500 jobs since the start of the pandemic, James said.

James said the statistics don't reflect the total cost of jobs in the economy, because some people have simply stopped looking for work because of the lack of opportunities. 

Locally the participation rate – the percentage of working-age people either working or actively seeking work – dropped to 63.7 per cent in April. In March the participation rate was 64.9 per cent, in February it was 66.4 per cent and in April 2019 the city's participation rate was 71.8 per cent.

Between April 2019 and April 2020, the city's labour force shrunk by 5,600 people, while the city's population grew by 500, Statistics Canada reported.

"'Is this the worst of it?' is the question everyone will be asking," James said. "I think we have a hard road ahead – I don't want to sugar-coat this."

The province will be watching closely over the next few months as the B.C. Restart Plan stars coming into effect, allowing many hard-hit businesses to reopen, she said.

While she is hopeful the province's strong economic fundamentals will mean a quick recovery, the province is small player in the global economy and will be strongly impacted by what happens nationally and globally.

"All of the provinces have been hit," James said. "We're all going through this together."

Sectors like international tourism are likely going to continue suffering the impact of COVID-19 long after others have gone back to work, she said. The province is working with industries on a sector-by-sector basis to try to develop plans to get them working or address the ongoing issues.

"This is going to be a major... piece of work to turn the economy around." 

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