Sask. economy has hopefully ‘bottomed out’ after losing 53,000 jobs in April, says economist

Saskatchewan’s unemployment rate soared in April due to the COVID-19 economic shutdown but an economist says it’s not likely to get much worse.

“It’s a huge shock. It’s a huge loss, something you’d literally expect to see during a war,” said Joel Bruneau, head of the department of economics at the University of Saskatchewan.

“The good news is that we’ve probably bottomed out.”

Unemployment hit 11.3 per cent in April, according to Statistics Canada. It was just 7.3 per cent in March, the month COVID-19 restrictions forced hundreds of businesses to close.

In one month, the province lost 40,000 full-time jobs and 13,000 part-time jobs.

Bruneau noted Saskatchewan was hit hard, but most other provinces were hit harder due to their larger tourism and service sectors.

In mid-March, the Saskatchewan government and others across Canada ordered the closure of schools, businesses and public events as the first cases of COVID-19 were confirmed.

Saskatchewan’s plan to restart the economy began this week, with dentist, physiotherapists and others allowed to open their doors. Flower shops, hair salons and other businesses are scheduled to be part of the second phase of openings later this month.

The opening date for restaurants and other services has not been determined.

Many businesses and medical offices say they’ll open with reduced staffing or remain closed until they can source an adequate supply of protective gear.

Bruneau said the employment gains in the first two phases will not be significant but could be just enough to keep the unemployment rate from rising further.

He said there are other problems that won’t be easily solved, even after it’s safe to open all businesses.

The oil and gas industry has been battered by plummeting prices and oversupply that have rendered the product nearly worthless at times. Those declines began several years ago, he said.

“Those are long-term structural problems. I would not expect to see any short-term rebound,” Bruneau said.

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