Class Dismissed: Youth Unemployment Still Ignored

By Emad Mahdavi, Law Student

One of the first lessons Canadian youth are taught is that if you pull up your boot straps and work hard, you will be rewarded with a good, secure job with steady and sufficient income. While this may be true for some young people in Canada, it seems that a great number of our youth have been left to fend for themselves in the job market.

Statistics Canada published a report a couple of weeks ago looking at the state of unemployment in the country. In the month of June, employment among youths aged 15-24 declined by 44,000, and employment among people 25-54 declined by 26,000. Within the past year, the lowest monthly unemployment rate for youth in Canada was at 12.9% while the highest was at 14.1%. These are concerning numbers.

Unemployment for any group is troubling and it’s clear that certain marginalized groups such as racialized persons, persons with disabilities and aboriginal persons face particular challenges in securing and maintaining good jobs. But the unemployment of young persons is disconcerting for its own unique reasons.

Unemployed youth often consist of a considerable number of recent graduates entering the ‘real world’ – often with sizeable debt. Even when these individuals find jobs they are often precarious ones, leading to financial uncertainty and hardship: not allowing them to form a career path, and not providing benefits otherwise covered by full-time employment. In a United Way Toronto report, it was found that this employment insecurity affects many aspects of a person’s life, including the decision to start a family.

At the same time, a university degree has become the most basic requirement for most jobs, leading to record numbers of university enrollment across the country. Tuition fees, meanwhile, continue to grow at rates disproportionate to wage increases.

All of these factors have lead to Canadian youth being at risk of falling into poverty; often starting their adult lives with substantial debt with little chance of entering career-oriented work. Youth unemployment also negatively affects the Canadian economy as a whole. According to a report released by TD Economics, the rise in youth unemployment will lead to $23.1 billion in lost wages over the next 18 years. This means lost contributions to local economies by those who would have otherwise been employed.

What is being done about this? In the past, we haven’t been able to look to the federal government for any solutions or support. In fact, quite the contrary. Since 2006, the federal government has cut work opportunities for summer students by almost half. Funding for programs such as Youth Employment Strategy has also been cut, going from $275 million in 2010 to $211 million in 2013. Many employers who used to hire students and recent graduates can no longer afford to do so due to the cuts.

Comparing Canada to Switzerland, where the unemployment rate is 2.8%, a recent CBC documentary looked at how all levels of government, educators and employers in the European country, work together to ensure that education and training are linked to employment; a level of cooperation unseen in Canada.

Perhaps it’s time the federal government displayed the leadership necessary, began collaborating with the industries necessary, and invested more in a generation that must compete in a growing and competing global economy. If our youth are indeed the future, surely we can be a little less shortsighted when it comes to ensuring their economic wellbeing.