Young, Proud, Canadian… Unemployed

By Graham Carey

As a young Canadian, I have to say that I feel extremely lucky, and privileged, to have a few more years of blissful academic insulation from the job market right now. For my peers, young job searchers across the country, simply put, things are bad, and show no sign of recovering any time soon.

StatsCan recently released their monthly labour market update with little fanfare, touting the stable unemployment rate (7.4% across Canada, unchanged since last month) and overall increase in jobs – offset by an increase in Canadians in the job market. These numbers, not fantastic by themselves, conceal a more worrying statistic, buried a little deeper in the report. For youth 15-24, already the group holding the unfortunate title of Least Employed Canadians, unemployment jumped again since May, up to a staggering 14.3% in June – almost twice the national average.

Take a minute to step back from the cold numbers and think about what they imply, in context. First, when I think of summer in Canada, I think “summer jobs” – students flooding from the end of classes into a wide variety of seasonal employments … but in reality, it’s not happening. Yes, youth are flooding the job market – 16 000 more job searchers in June than May – but only 1 800 actually found work. The time of year that we expect, reasonably, to be the most promising and job-heavy, especially for youth, and our unemployment is rising? If this doesn’t send serious warning signals, I’m not sure what will.

Second, the fact that youth unemployment is double the national average should scream, or spell out in giant coal-powered neon letters (take your pick), “UNSUSTAINABLE RECOVERY”. The Canadian government has been using the economic recovery trump card to put off all manner of vital, positive action, yet their best-laid plans are creating what? An exploitative job market that is leaning so top-heavy that entry-level jobs are getting snatched out of the hands of young Canadians simply because we don’t have the 5-10 years of experience that our competitors (older Canadians also floundering to find meaningful employment) bring to the table.

We’ve been set up to fall. Young Canadians are being set back years – setbacks that affect not only our professional, but also our personal lives. Where will the economic recovery be in ten years when the aging population truly begins to retire (having been delayed because, let’s face it, who can retire at 65 anymore)? Who will pay the pensions if the youth of today are still struggling through part-time, entry-level, or no jobs at all?

The real wrench of the whole matter is that this problem is solvable. I have two words for the Canadian government. Green. Jobs. Which age bracket should have a disproportionate advantage when it comes to new technology, new innovations and new practices required in a Green Economy? Which age bracket has the passion and the know-how to bring Canada’s economy to the international forefront? Which age bracket is relatively unburdened by business-as-usual doctrine and similar hindering factors? I’ll give you two guesses.

What has the federal government been up to instead? A quick sampling – cutting public sector jobs at Environment Canada, announcing an end to standard coal-generated electricity while giving companies pointers on how to beat the deadline (a 45 year ticket to non-compliant, dirty coal burning), and blocking the addition of asbestos to an international hazardous chemical list (despite the fact that its use is banned in Canada). Green jobs? Helping Canadian youth avoid a pretty damn bleak future, environmentally and economically? Not a peep.

Don’t take my word for it though. The government’s own federal bureaucrats have been telling them as recently as this spring that we are squandering a huge opportunity to create sustainable, gainful jobs that have the dual advantage of making our economy more robust environmentally and fiscally. Their findings show that we are falling far behind economic players worldwide, including those hardest hit by the recent recession. While we weathered the storm better than most other countries, we are being set up to fall much further in the long term.

The choice is becoming increasingly clear – between unsustainable business-as-usual, putting the environment and the future of our country in jeopardy, and a deliberate shift to a more sustainable economy, providing opportunities for the youth of today to support themselves while creating a better Canada, and a better world. Is it such a difficult choice? For the policy makers in the top tiers of government – apparently so.

Graham is part of the the Policy/Research team of the CYCC, he can be reached at graham@ourclimate.ca

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