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Recession still hurting NWT jobs

Erika Sherk
Northern News Services
Published Wednesday, February 3, 2010

SOMBA K'E/YELLOWKNIFE - Though the NWT still boasts higher employment rates than the rest of the country, its bragging rights took a recession-fuelled beating in 2009, according to new statistics.

The NWT Bureau of Statistics released its NWT Labour Force Activity statistics late last month.

"There's a significant decrease in the employment rate compared to December '08," said territorial statistician Vishni Peeris. "Then it was almost 69 per cent compared to 64 per cent for December '09." Employment rates are the percentage of people working out of the total population.

Participation, meaning the total workforce - both those working and those looking for jobs - has also dropped.

"The participation rate has decreased quite dramatically over the last while," Peeris said. "Normally we're hovering around 76, 77 per cent, but we're down around 68, 69 per cent now."

It is the lowest participation rate since the NWT Bureau started collecting labour force statistics in 2001, she said.

"It's indicative of a smaller labour force," Peeris said, "Fewer people are working and fewer people are actively seeking employment."

She said it's pretty easily explained.

"I think you can make some leaps to the fact that we had a worldwide recession the previous year and we're just starting the recovery everywhere."

Despite the drop in the percentage of the population with jobs, the NWT is still doing better than the rest of Canada, as the national employment rate was 61.4 per cent in December 2009.

In Yellowknife, the employment rate this December was 79.5 per cent, compared to other NWT communities at a collective 51.2 per cent.

The territory felt the recession later than the rest of the country, according to Yellowknife mayor Gord Van Tighem.

"We often lag behind the national," he said.

"Where we are, we were also sheltered from a big part of it."

Also having an impact is the fact that a large number of people working in Yellowknife, particularly at the diamond mines, actually live elsewhere, said Van Tighem.

"It's a bit of a buffer," he said, "If there's a slowdown or some layoffs, it's the people that commute in that frequently are the first ones (to go)."

Though 2,100 people lost their jobs in the private sector in the NWT last year, there was an increase of 600 jobs in the public sector - the only sector to experience an increase.

This is one of the factors in the territory's economic resilience, said Yellowknife Chamber of Commerce president Patrick Doyle.

'We are slightly isolated from (the recession)," he said. "We have a very heavy government contingent that continues to go, recession or not, and even though there were some effects to the diamond mines, overall that's still a very solid industry."

The statistics were compiled by the NWT Bureau of Statistics in partnership with Statistics Canada.

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