May marks the start of summer jobs season, making it an important time for young people looking for work. But according to the latest jobs report, last month brought more pain to the young and unemployed, who continue to face jobless rates that have barely budged since the depths of the recession.
As recent grads took their first steps into the job market, Statistics Canada data shows that the unemployment rate among those aged 15 to 25 hit 14.3 per cent in May, up 0.4 per cent over April. The number of people with jobs in this group, meanwhile, was down 1.8 per cent over the same time last year.
“Youth employment is roughly at the same level as in July 2009, when the labour market downturn hit a low,” Statistics Canada observed on Friday.
Student employment was likewise bleak. Of those aged 20 to 24 who plan to return to school in the fall, 58.9 per cent were in a job in May. That’s down from 60.8 per cent last year, but up over May 2009, when that figure sunk to 56.3 per cent.
“[Youth unemployment] is a nagging concern,” Doug Porter, Bank of Montreal’s deputy chief economist, told The Huffington Post.
“The last thing you want is a whole generation that has trouble catching up with the labour market and potentially seeing their newly minted skills erode. It’s important for the long-term health of the economy to get new people into the labour force with new skills and a different perspective.”
As Porter points out, youth participation in the labour force has declined significantly in recent years, dropping by about 180,000 since September 2008, an indication that those who can’t find jobs have either gone back to school, or stopped looking altogether.
That is of great concern to Angella MacEwen, senior economist for the Canadian Labour Congress.
Though MacEwen says it’s not uncommon for youth to drop out of the labour force during economic downturns, she says the recent numbers show that trend has been “prolonged.”
“People who went back to school two years ago have maybe finished an education, and there still isn’t a job for them,” she said.
MacEwen added: “It is a real crisis for youth. It has serious implications for them and for the whole economy, because when the baby boomers do retire in 10 years, we won’t have this trained workforce to kind of slide into those positions, because they’re not being hired and trained right now.”
As MacEwen observes, when those who have stopped looking for work and are waiting for a job to start are factored into the equation, youth unemployment is nearly 23 per cent, which she refers to as “the real unemployment rate.”
On Friday, Ken Lewenza, national president of the Canadian Auto Workers union, decried “stubborn high unemployment” among youth and some other demographic groups.
“The federal government must take heed of these job trends and take action to help all Canadians, including our youth, find secure, decent full time jobs,” Lewenza said in a press release.
The Conference Board of Canada, too, called attention to the plight of jobless youth on Friday, noting that “young people continue to face a challenging environment when it comes to finding work.”
When it comes to the long-term outlook, Porter maintains that the youth employment picture isn’t as dire as it may seem.
“By no means is the job market incredibly strong, but there are pockets of strength, there are industries that are doing well, and there are certain regions that are doing well,” he said. “I don’t at all think that young people should lose hope.”
He says a youth unemployment rate of 14.3 per cent is “almost exactly in line with the 30 year average.”
But MacEwen says that is cold comfort to the young and jobless, who are carrying much higher levels of student debt and face house prices that have tripled in the last 30 years.
“What you might see is people taking jobs in order just to pay off their student loans, and never really recovering to where they would have been otherwise,” she said.
That concern is top-of-mind for Connie Chan, who recently graduated from Ryerson University with a degree in radio and television arts -- and $20,000 in student loans.
Despite completing six internships over the course of her degree, and applying to countless jobs in recent months, Chan’s search for a job in her field has so far come up short.
As the clock winds down until she has to start making loan repayments, Chan, who has moved back in with her parents, says she will soon have to consider other options.
“Right now it’s a waiting game. If I don’t hear anything [in a month], I’m going to start applying for retail jobs,” says the 21-year-old. “I’ve come to the conclusion that that might be the only way to sustain a living.”