Doug Saunders hasn’t had to look for work in 15 years, but he has joined a sharply spiking list of Alberta job seekers.

New numbers released yesterday by Statistics Canada paint a grim picture for Alberta’s once-unassailable job market as the number of Employment Insurance (EI) beneficiaries jumped 10.5 per cent between December 2008 and January.

Saunders, 41, showed up at the Canada-Alberta Service Centre at 6712 Fisher St. S.E. to file an EI claim after he was laid off as an industrial painter last Friday.

“We saw all the other companies around us going down, but we seemed safe and then one day there was just nothing on the go,” he said.

“There’s nothing really out there for me right now.”

Jobless Albertans seeking an EI safety net have soared far higher than the national average.

Local numbers more than doubled the 4.4 per cent rise charted in January and marking a 46.1 per cent increase in claims since January 2008, far above the Canadian average of 21.3 per cent.

Responding to the soaring jobless rate, the federal government yesterday set aside $60 million to hire more staff to deal with the increasing number of claims and boosted the length of time for benefits by five weeks.

But for Saunders, who joins the ranks of the 23,340 Albertans who were receiving EI in January, the reality now is to cut back on luxuries and hope for the best.

Obviously we’ve got to tighten our belts, he said.