There are fewer jobless people in the Kootenays than anywhere else in the province.
According to a BC Stats report released on October 11, the unemployment rate in the Kootenay region in September was just three per cent. That is significantly lower than the provincial average for the month, at 6.7 per cent.
“Unemployment rates are like polls; they are a snapshot in time and shouldn’t be used to base broad assumptions on. Having said that, a rate of three per cent is probably a record for the Kootenays. I cannot recall such a low rate at any time in my 12 and a half years as an MLA,” said Kootenay East MLA Bill Bennett, who is also B.C.’s Minister of Energy, Mines and Natural Gas.
The Kootenays’ unemployment rate has been dropping consistently all year, since peaking at 7.8 per cent in January. Last month was the lowest it has reached in at least two years.
Based on figures from January to September 2013, the Kootenay unemployment rate is 4.9 per cent. During the same period in 2012, the rate was 7.3 per cent.
The lowest annual rate in the past 10 years was in 2008, when 4.9 per cent of the population were jobless.
Last month, 796,000 people were employed in the Kootenays, leaving just three per cent of the region’s population without jobs.
Elsewhere in the province, the northeast region had a rate of 4.9 per cent and Victoria had a rate of 5.3 per cent. On the higher end of the scale, Vancouver, the mainland/southwest region and Abbotsford/Mission all had an unemployment rate of 7.1 per cent.
MLA Bennett said the coal industry, forestry and tourism are keeping unemployment low in the region.
“The coal mines are the biggest employer and even with lower coal prices, they are still having to replace retiring workers. Their workforce has grown by a thousand workers in the past five years.
“Canfor is also very busy. There are fewer jobs in forestry than there used to be, but forestry has stabilized in our region, so many people are working in that industry.
“Tourism is coming back, not up to the same standards as 2007-08 before the U.S. economic crash, but getting stronger,” Bennett said, adding that Kootenay residents also commute to work in the northern B.C. and Alberta oil sands.
“When you look at all these opportunities, you can see why the rate is as low as it is.”
Local employers are now struggling with the opposite problem: there are too few skilled workers to fill positions, Bennett explained.
“The skills shortage is upon us – it is not “coming”, it is actually happening right now. I see it every day in my job as Minister as I travel the province. This is due in part to how many baby boomers are retiring and making space for people to move into good jobs.”
Across B.C., unemployment is higher for men (6.3 per cent) than women (6.2 per cent). Men aged 45 to 64 are in the best position (4.5 per cent), compared to men aged 25 to 44 (6.1 per cent) and 15-24 (12.8 per cent).
Similarly, women aged 45 to 64 in B.C. have a low rate (5.6 per cent), with women aged 25 to 44 at 5.8 per cent and women aged 15 to 24 at 9.9 per cent.
Most people are employed on a full-time basis, with 21 per cent of people with jobs working part-time. But it varies greatly for men and women: 13.4 per cent of men work part-time, versus 29.3 per cent of women.
In Canada, B.C.’s unemployment rate is among the lowest at 6.7 per cent. The western provinces are in the best position: Alberta and Saskatchewan have the lowest rates at 4.3 per cent, followed by Manitoba at 5.5 per cent. The highest unemployment rates are in the Maritimes, with Prince Edward Island at 11 per cent, and New Brunswick at 10.7 per cent.