Prince George's unemployment rate continued to rise in May, reaching 11.8 per cent, Statistics Canada reported on Friday.
The unemployment rate was up from 10.1 per cent in April, and more than double the 4.7 per cent seen in May 2019. Provincially, the unemployment rate increased to 13.4 per cent, up from 11.5 per cent in April and more than triple the 4.4 per cent unemployment rate in May 2019.
"These numbers pulled date from the week of May 10 to 16th, before our Restart Plan had come into effect," B.C. Finance Minister Carole James said on Friday. "These numbers are families, they're individuals, they're businesses that struggled and continue to struggle. It's why we are focused on reopening our economy in a safe way."
The number of unemployed people actively seeking work in the the city grew from 4,700 in April to 5,500 in May. In May 2019, there were 2,500 unemployed people actively seeking jobs.
But the real number of people out of work in could be much worse than the unemployment numbers show, as the city saw a nearly 10 per cent drop in the workforce participation rate compared to last year.
Last month only 63.4 per cent of working-age adults in the city were working or actively seeking work. In May 2019, 73.1 per cent of working-age adults were taking part in the job market. The change means more than 7,000 people in the city have dropped out of the labour force.
Both B.C. and Canada saw declines in the workforce participation rate compared to last year – 60.6 per cent compared to 66 per cent in May 2019 provincially, and 61.4 per cent versus 65.7 per cent nationally.
"Overall we've seen job losses of over 353,000 since the pandemic began," James said.
Young workers were particularly hard-hit, with the provincial youth unemployment rate reaching 28.9 per cent in May, she said. That reflects the industries like restaurants and hospitality which have been hardest hit by job losses.
More than half a million British Columbians have applied for and received the province's one-time $1,000 benefit for people who have lost their jobs during the pandemic, James said.
Prince George and B.C. are not alone in facing high unemployment. Nationally, the unemployment rate was 13.7 per cent in May, up from 13 per cent in April.
In the United States, the national unemployment rate dropped to 13.3 per cent in May, down from 14.7 per cent in April. Despite the improvement, that country's unemployment rate was still at a level not seen since the Great Depression.
The employment picture should look better in June, as Phase 2 of the B.C. Restart Plan continues, she said. However, lifting public health restrictions on businesses won't matter if the public doesn't feel safe to return to restaurants, stores, salons and other businesses, James said.
"It's critical we build confidence in our recovery," she said. "Making sure we do it properly... making sure we do it safely is the best thing we can do for our economy."
— With files from The Associated Press