Economist Armine Yalnizyan (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Remember all the hand-wringing back in 2018 and 2019 when unemployment for young men in Alberta hit 20 per cent? 

“It is so stark: Young men left behind in Alberta’s recovery amid ‘male-dominated recession’”Financial Post

“Legions of young Alberta men are unemployed and feel ostracized. What could go wrong?” — the Globe and Mail

“‘It just feels pretty dire’: What it’s like for young Alberta men facing a 20% unemployment rate”CBC

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

Important Question: So what are we hearing now that Alberta employment rates for women in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic are falling back to levels not seen since the mid 1980s?

Answer: Crickets. 

“Hello Alberta,” tweeted economist Armine Yalnizyan, who has argued persuasively that there will be no recovery from COVID-19 without a “she-covery,” and no she-covery without child care. 

“I was comparing which province’s women saw the most roll-back of gains in employment equity due to the pandemic,” she continued yesterday afternoon. “It’s you guys. Women’s employment rate in 2020 was back at the level it was in 1984.”

PS, added the former chief economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, now an Atkinson Foundation Fellow studying the future of workers, not so long ago more Alberta women had paid work than anywhere in Canada.

This doesn’t mean women in Alberta have the lowest employment rate in Canada, she explained. They still have the second highest rate, “but they have seen the biggest roll-back in employment rate in the country, and are now back at levels last seen in 1984.”

Back in 2019, Alberta’s then-new United Conservative Party premier, Jason Kenney, used high unemployment experienced by young men to ride a couple of his favourite hobbyhorses. He was “pushing Ottawa for tangible solutions, including a firm deadline for the completion of the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion and changes to the Fiscal Stabilization Program,” the Globe and Mail said. 

Parkland Institute researcher Emma Jackson (Photo: Twitter).

If you put aside the question of the market, he wasn’t entirely off base with the suggestion more work in the fossil fuel extraction sector, traditionally heavily dominated by men, would help address unemployment among young men in Alberta. It’s well understood to be a male-dominated industry that paid far higher salaries than jobs requiring more education in which women predominated like health care and education.

So how’s that different from what’s happening now, in 2021? 

Well, as we have seen in Alberta’s recent budget and heard from the pronouncements of Mr. Kenney and his finance minister, Travis Toews, the UCP Government not only doesn’t seem very concerned about jobs for women, judging from their intention to attack public sector jobs they are outright hostile to them. 

It is well understood that public sector jobs – thanks in large part to the prevalence of unionization in health care, education and government – help narrow the gender wage gap. As two Parkland Institute researchers said in a blog post on gender pay disparities back in 2017, this happens “not by paying everyone more, but rather by paying women and men more equally.

Parkland Institute researcher Ian Hussey (Photo: David J. Climenhaga).

“Taking age and education levels into account, women across the board in every age group, with and without post-secondary education, face less wage discrimination in the public sector than they do in the private,” authors Ian Hussey and Emma Jackson wrote. 

But in a jurisdiction where the economy is as heavily dominated by the fossil fuel industry as in Alberta, attacking public service employment – whether through outright layoffs or by encouraging privatization and precarity – means attacking both women’s economic security and actual women’s jobs. 

Putting all of the province’s eggs in the bitumen basket is the other side of the same coin, and dumb to boot given the developing realities of the market for fossil fuels, which no amount of climate change denialism, even if you have a whole War Room to do the denying, is going to change. 

The UCP’s discredited austerity policies, its hostility to unions and unionization, and its refusal to take serious measures to diversify Alberta’s economy away from oil and gas, are not just bad economics, they amount to a war on women’s work. And that’s bad for men as well as women. 

But it probably explains why there’s so little concern being expressed in government circles about an economic trend that bodes no good for Alberta.

As for the silence of the media, well, they’re understaffed and overworked covering Mr. Kenney’s daily no-news news conferences at which he re-announces vaccination schedules and attacks Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Perhaps Ms. Yalnizyan’s observation will wake them up.

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  1. I am fairly cynical about media coverage here. Whether they are spread too thin, or this just doesn’t fit the easy conventional wisdom narrative, I doubt this will get much mainstream media coverage.

    The stereotypical news coverage about the economy in Alberta pretty much begins and ends with talking to a worker in the energy sector, often blue collar and usually male who previously had a well paying job and now has had wages or hours cut back or has no work at all and four hungry kids. The only thing missing is from it becoming a well known country song is a crop in the field. For whatever reasons, the Eastern based media often does more to reinforce such stereotypes and preconceptions than the local media. I suppose it makes it an easier story to tell or sell to an audience outside of Alberta.

    I doubt the provincial government wants to talk about this either, while they are trying to cut back spending on nurses and teachers, professions that have a large number of women and their friends in the local media would probably also find this issue just as inconvenient. So yes, to get any official sympathy or acknowledgement in Alberta, you probably need to be male and work in the energy sector. It probably helps too if you drive a big blue truck, say in the image of our dear leader.

    1. Maybe it would help, when they announce 15,000 jobs cut by the government, to say 12,000 women and 3,000 men had their jobs cut by the Kenney misogynists.

  2. Unfortunately, this trend fits well with religious conservative plans to take Alberta back to the 1950’s: the fewer jobs for women, the more they have to depend on men for economic security, and the more power men have over women.

  3. Alberta is the land where women work for “pin money” in the eyes of the troglodyte UCP, because women don’t have mortgages, or food to buy or children to feed, not are they sole income-earners for their families.

    Look to the women of Iceland.*

    Here in Bituland? Only bitumen, not bituwomen. Very little progress in terms of working conditions and pay equity in 40 years. In fact, we are witnessing the Great Regression right now. The gents-only UCP might prefer to return to the days of separate tavern entrances for women, or men-only clubs, or even to times when women were barred from wearing pants to dine in restaurants, but here we are in the 21st century. Girls can wear pants to school. The Vice-president of the United States is a woman, and she wears pants. Imagine! Dare to dream, girls! Women are not Handmaids for Kenney.

    *I am not counselling women to go on strike, or organize a protest march because God and Jason Kenney know that counselling such events was made illegal by Jason Kenney, and subject to harsh punishment under new laws. The women of Iceland are an historical example of pre-UCP actions against historical injustice. In fact, Iceland was not ruled by the UCP back then, or ever. Iceland’s women took action when the UCP was figuratively and literally still wearing diapers. Such things are not permitted to be taught in Alberta schools, right Angus McBeath? I suspect the children of Iceland would be astounded to know that incompetent men are allowed to run a government, when competent women, like their mothers, are available for the jobs.

  4. In other words, women must be punished for the loss of men’s employment. If we flip that upside down, why don’t more men train and educate themselves for occupations that are traditionally “women’s work”? Simple: “women’s work” pays less, traditionally. It’s all about tradition. Keep looking in the rear-view mirror, and remember Jurassic Park. Objects in mirror are closer than they appear.

  5. More men still lost jobs then women and are more likely to die from Corona and experience sever symptoms and yet all I hear is women most effected (extremely untrue). Goodness forbid society focus on the suffering of men for all of five minutes without a feminist demanding all the attention go back to men.

    Look don’t get me wrong, I feel bad for all peoples horrible effected, but all I hear in general is women most effected, even when its mostly men dying, losing jobs, and being discarded by society. It gets frustrating.

    1. Firstly, anyone who doesn’t know the difference between “affect” — a verb — and “effect” — a noun, doesn’t really rate much credibility here. The English language is a tool, which must be used correctly for maximum efficacy. Our host is a master user of the language … and he knows the difference.

      Secondly, many male-dominated occupations, from oil & gas work to construction, were unaffected by pandemic shutdowns, while female-dominated occupations, from non-essential retail to personal services like hair cutting & styling (both men’s & women’s) were. Many other occupations were allowed to continue to work from home, and those sectors too employ men than women. There’s good reason why the term “she-cession” has gained traction.

      1. I’m no master of the language, Jerry, but I try. I have a copy of Fowler’s Modern English Usage within reach at all times, and it’s saved me from crushing embarrassment more than once. I do know the difference between affect and effect, as well as between its and it’s. But that doesn’t mean I sometimes don’t still spot those embarrassing errors in my prose, especially when typing furiously. And, as we all know, you can’t edit a tweet. DJC

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