Millennials’ job plight is more complex than simple unemployment

Even young people with jobs still grapple with low wage growth, job insecurity, high debt loads and more

 
Job seekers in a lineup at a job fair in 2013

Applicants line up at a 2013 job fair in Miami, Fla. Young workers are struggling with much more than just unemployment. (Lynne Sladky/AP)

Peter Shawn Taylor’s recent article, “The youth unemployment myth,” presents a distorted picture of the youth labour market and the realities that young Canadians face in the post-financial crisis economy. I’d like to counter some of the myths his analysis perpetuates in turn.

Let’s start with the big picture. Wages are falling in Ontario and British Columbia. Job growth remains tepid and uneven. The Conference Board of Canada recently reported that the income gap between younger and older generations is expanding. With the collapse of manufacturing many unemployed young workers migrated to Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Newfoundland for resource-extraction jobs, but employment growth in that sector has now largely evaporated with the falling price of oil.

The ascendency of precarious work emerged over the last three decades as Canada’s labour market was re-regulated to ensure the primacy of flexibility, commodification and individualism. For young workers, precarious work means problems linked to job quality, economic vulnerability, insufficient wages, and a profound power imbalance in the workplace. Insecurity and anxiety reign as young workers cycle through temporary contracts, part-time jobs, or freelance gigs.

Consider employer demands for two-tiered wages for new hires, a stubbornly high youth unemployment rate, soaring personal debt, the ubiquity of unpaid internships, chronic underemployment of post-secondary graduates, or the growing incidence of youth mental illness. Very real challenges exist when it comes to the school-to-labour market transition and the generation of workers entering the labour market are being irreversibly scarred by poor economic conditions. The possibility of intergenerational fracturing and social discord are real threats; just consider the rise of the Quebec student protests or Occupy.

Young people also can no longer rely on the luxury of a social safety net—so it’s no wonder they stay unemployed for shorter amounts of time or stay in their jobs for longer periods. The high-number of qualifying hours needed makes Employment Insurance difficult to access, so most young people don’t view this as an option if they lose their job. Welfare is a similar proposition, with a deep stigma and unenviable hoops to jump through just to receive a sub-meagre monthly cheque. Finally, the Canada Pension Plan offers insufficient retirement security and hasn’t been reformed to meet the challenges of a period where most young workers can’t enrol in pension plans.

There are worrying social impacts downstream as a result of these factors: a lowered marriage rate, more adult children cohabiting with their parents, a reduction in the birthrate, and young people holding off on major life events such as starting relationships or home ownership. All of these trends, which relate to delayed adulthood, have the capacity to damage the economy and slow economic growth.

Canada’s public policy and laws haven’t kept up with the vast changes that Canada’s economy has experienced over the past 30 years. Young workers in their 20s and 30s face the prospect of an uncertain economy increasingly vulnerable to financial shocks. Many young people are wondering why the social contract doesn’t support their goals, hopes and ambitions, or acknowledge their lived reality.

Going forward we need to implement public policy that eases the burdens young workers now face. From affordable childcare to reforming workplace law to funding paid internships, Canada desperately needs policies that reflect the realities of the 21st century, rather than the 20th. Without embedding intergenerational equity into Canada’s labour market policy we will be headed for long-period of reduced economic growth, stagnation, or even decline. The time has come to invest in young Canadians and adopt smart policies so that our future economic stability can remain secure.

Andrew Langille is a Toronto-based labour lawyer and founder of Youth and Work. Follow him @youthandwork

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7 comments on “Millennials’ job plight is more complex than simple unemployment

  1. This article is on the right track. But in my opinion the way the economy is now and how young workers are being effected is all part of the plan and fully intended. The middle class is being suppressed threw generations and things are only going to get worse. The gap between classes is growing exponentially. The reality is, if you weren’t born with the PRIVILAGE of sipping off the silver spoon and with your hand out to your parents, good luck in life. This economy is a huge manipulation there’s plenty of money to sustain the economy and work force. But its not a possibility when the economy is controlled by greed especially when politicians get away with anything. Its all or castrated. You don’t need a MBA or a degree in economics to see this. Just THINK outside the box…..

  2. This is an important perspective Andrew. Thanks for the article.

  3. Nice article Andrew Langille. We do agree that young people find themselves in a frustrating situation in these hard times when unemployment rate is on the rise and the problems linked to job quality, economic vulnerability, insufficient wages, and a profound power imbalance in the workplace never seize to exist leading to social, religious and economic exploitation as we have recently witnessed. We at Kenyan Youth Board do offer offer effective capacity building programs which will impact the youth to hold the highest standard of work ethic and professionalism and in the end we do offer industrial attachment and job opportunities. Please do feel free to check out the services we offer by visiting our website or email us on kenyanyouthboard@gmail.com to learn more about our services.