In May 2006, the Alberta economy was extremely strong as indicated by most formal indicators (e.g., higher participation and employment rates, lower unemployment rate). Informal signs of a “hot” economy were evident as job posters and billboards were highly visible, signing bonuses were marketed for a variety of positions, even for some lower-paying retail positions, and most companies
were offering wages well above the minimum wage.
Reflecting the dynamic Alberta economy of 2006, Figure 54 clearly demonstrates higher participation rates for Albertans than for Canadians as the non-Aboriginal participation rate in Alberta was at 74.4 per cent, much higher than the Canadian non-Aboriginal rate at 67.1 per cent. The participation rate for First Nations was better in Alberta (62 per cent) than in the rest of Canada (58.9 per cent), but a significant gap exists between the First Nations and non-Aboriginal rates.
It is important to note that participation rate is never expected to reach 100 per cent as a number of people in the 15 to 64 age group would choose not to be active in the labour force (opting for school attendance, retirement or stay-at-home parenthood, etc.).
Usually, a booming economy will lead to a higher participation rate, as people believe they have greater opportunity of finding employment. In some cases, it may temporarily increase the unemployment rate, but normally a high participation rate is associated with high employment rate and low unemployment rate. The information provided for the First Nations communities’ participation, employment and unemployment rates is not as straightforward. In fact, some of the communities with the highest participation rates also have some of the highest unemployment rates (e.g., Swan River and Eden Valley).
Overall, the participation rate for First Nations in Alberta both on- and off-reserve is at 62 per cent, however, significant variation exists among communities. Figure 55 has been colour-coded by Treaty area and shows that the participation rate ranges from 31.6 per cent in Janvier to 69.7 per cent in Alexander.
As with some of the data presented earlier, variations across communities cannot be simply explained by geography such as proximity to large urban centers (mainly Edmonton or Calgary) or areas rich in natural resources which drove the last economic boom such as Fort McMurray.