It's clear that the youth labour market in Canada has been deteriorating for a number of years. The actual dimensions of the this problematic trend are rarely discussed in the media, politicians or the people who control the levers of public policy. Last week Andrew Jackson, the chief economist of the Canadian Labour Congress, penned a short commentary about the youth unemployment rate in Canada.
Using alternative measures of the unemployment rate from Statistics Canada (which are better indicators as they also consider labour force dropouts and workers forced to work part-time instead of full-time), Mr. Jackson traces the incredible damage that the recession wrought on the youth labour market in Canada. He states 'the "real" for young workers compared to 2007 has been stunning: up 4.3 percentage points from 15.4% to 19.7% (from 16.2% to 21.0% for young men, and from 14.4% to 18.2% for young women.) The "real" youth rate has slipped only a touch from the high of 20.3% in 2009.'
A host of indicators (employment rate, labour market participation rate and employment rate) show a sustained decline in the job prospects for young people in Canadian society, yet the only public policy response we've been hearing is silence. Young people are being forced to obtain higher credentials (with opportunity, financial and debt servicing costs) simply to maintain a tenuous foothold in the labour market. The strategic decision to focus on post-secondary education at the expense of labour market development is turning into dangerous public policy blunder.
What we're seeing in the youth labour market (which I've argued is the 15-34 age demographic) is a steep rise in precarious employment (i.e. internships, contract and temp work), economic scarring from the most recent recession, failure to launch syndrome via delayed adulthood and putting off the achievement of significant life milestones. These trends are going to have significant impacts vis-a-vis demographics, economic growth and labour markets going forward, but we've seen little official acknowledgment that these trends even exist - let alone innovative policy fixes that might address labour market insecurity, economic instability in the middle-class or the inequitable taxation of young people via tuition fees.
These problems aren't going away and as I've previously indicated I suspect that they will grow worse over the short to medium term. For some additional perspective on youth labour market issues take a look at some interviews I've recently done, see: here, here and here.