There’s plenty of hand-wringing over high youth unemployment in the wake of the recession, but according to a new study, the plight of the young and jobless is not as alarming as another, more pressing concern: underemployment.

Released on Tuesday by the Certified General Association of Canada (CGA), the paper drills into Statistics Canada data to challenge conventional thinking about youth unemployment and to draw attention to what the association sees as a larger issue of the underuse of skills by young and mature workers alike.

“Unemployment is important, but underemployment is where the opportunity is for the future,” Rock Lefebvre, vice-president of research and standards, told The Huffington Post. “We’ve got to find a way to put these highly skilled individuals in the optimal jobs, where they are the most satisfied and actualized while truly contributing to the productivity and competitiveness of Canada on a global stage.”

The youth unemployment rate — which at more than 14 per cent in 2011, was more than double the overall rate — remains a concern, Lefebvre said. But when considered in the context of previous recessions, joblessness among those aged 15 to 24 is “not as terrible as we might think,” he said.

Although youth unemployment peaked at 15.2 per cent during the recent recession, the study notes that it was “noticeably below” the highs experienced in the downturns of the early 1980s and early 1990s, when the jobless rate among youth climbed to 19.2 per cent and 17.2 per cent respectively. It also found that the quality of youth employment has improved during the recovery and that periods of joblessness are short-lived. The average duration of joblessness was 11 weeks for those aged 15 to 24 — half as long as for more mature workers, who were three times as likely to experience long-term unemployment (defined as lasting for one year or more) in 2011.

“The assumption that youth [are] disadvantaged in the labour market may not be always correct,” the study concludes.


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  • 19 (tie): Manufacturing: -9%

    Manufacturing was one of only three economic sectors to shrink in Canada between 2000 and 2011, losing nine per cent of its value. Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: Globe and Mail

  • 19 (tie). Forestry and Logging: -9%

    Forestry and logging shrank 9 per cent from 2000 to 2011, one of only three economic sectors to see negative growth. Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 18. Fishing, Hunting and Trapping: -6%

    Fishing, hunting and trapping was one of three economic sectors to shrink in Canada from 2000 to 2011, losing six per cent of its value. Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 17. Agriculture and Forestry Support: 33%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: Rex Features

  • 16. Utilities: 43%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: Alamy

  • 15. Crop and Animal Production: 44%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 14. Accommodation and Food Services: 50%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 13. Transportation and Warehousing: 54%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Globe and Mail

  • 12. Arts, Entertainment and Recreation: 61%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: Alamy

  • 11. Wholesale Trade: 62%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 9 (tie). Information and Cultural Industries: 64%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 9 (tie). Education: 64%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 7 (tie). Finance and Insurance: 68%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 7 (tie). Public Administration: 68%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 6. Professional, Scientific and Technical Services: 78%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 5. Retail: 79%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 4. Health Care and Social Services: 87%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 18. Administrative and Support, Waste Management: 90%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: Alamy

  • 2. Construction: 130%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: The Canadian Press

  • 1. Mining, Oil and Gas Extraction: 169%

    Source: Huffington Post via StatsCan Photo: AFP/Getty

Some observers have expressed worry about the potential erosion of skills among highly educated youth who cannot find jobs upon graduation from post-secondary studies. The CGA study, however, interprets as a positive development the fact that “unemployment is a transitory state between school and the labour market” for more than two-thirds of jobless youth, rather than being the result of involuntary layoffs. By contrast, 30 years ago, only 55.5 per cent of jobless youth were between school and the labour force.

The more serious issue is defined as either the under-use of skills (when a job is below a worker’s skill level) or the under-use of labour (when a worker has a part-time job but wants full-time hours), according to the study.

As the level of educational achievement among youth has outpaced improvement in job quality, the gap between unemployment rates among those with different levels of schooling has narrowed, “significantly reducing the labour market premium on higher education,” the study notes. Meanwhile, the number of youth who can find only part-time work and the proportion of those who have stopped looking for a job because “they believed that suitable employment was not available” has increased substantially in recent years, the paper states.

While youth may experience some aspects of underemployment more acutely than more mature workers, those from across the age spectrum suffer the effects of the growing disconnect between educational achievement and job quality, which can have wide-reaching implications.

Workers who are underemployed may suffer “erosion or loss of skills, knowledge and abilities, diminished current and life-long income, job dissatisfaction and emotional distress which ... may lead to deteriorating health,” the study observes. There can also be consequences for the economy on the whole, as underemployment “diminishes the potential level of the nation’s well-being.”

To address these concerns, the CGA report recommends more research into the causes of underemployment, “improving the mix of jobs supported by the Canadian economy” and helping youth to make more informed choices.

“The real issue is in the matching of aspirations of our young people with the jobs that are actually available,” Lefebvre said.

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  • 7. Huge Regional Disparities

    Wood Mountain (includes oil rich Fort McMurray, pictured here) saw its employment level shoot up by 95% over the 2000 to 2011 period, while forestry based Miramichi suffered the biggest decline of 63% in job numbers.<br> <br> Two out of 33 Census Metropolitan Areas (Windsor and Thunder Bay) had fewer jobs in 2011 than in 2000 while 13 of 45 smaller cities were in this situation. In 2011, only 5.5% of the labour force in Wood Mountain were unemployed while 16.4% were unemployed in Miramichi.<br> <br> -- <a href="" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>

  • 6. Jobs Up, Wages Down

    The unemployment rate jumped from a near record low of 6.1% in October 2008 to a high of 8.7% high in August 2009 and has declined slowly since then to 7.2% in March 2012. In spite of the recovery, unemployment duration increased again in 2011.<br> <br> There was a another slight decrease in the number of discouraged job searchers in 2011, who just quit looking because they believed that nothing suitable was available, but their numbers were still 50% above pre-recession levels. Actual hours worked at all jobs advanced to 36.4 hours in 2011 up 24 minutes from the all-time low of 36 hours in 2009.<br> <br> Real (after removing inflation) average weekly wages fell by 0.5% in 2011 following an increase of only 0.2% in 2010. This helps explain why the number of workers who have more than one job climbed for a third straight year to a record 5.4% in 2011. Women (6.4%) are now more likely to have a second job than are men (4.5%) while both were the same (4.6%) in 1989.<br> <br> -- <a href="" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>

  • 5. Bad News For Working Parents

    In 2011, the employment rate for lone-parent mothers (55%), lone-parent fathers (79%) and mothers with an employed husband present (70%) all with children under the age of six continued to be below their prerecession peaks. The only exception in 2011 was for women with a non-employed husband for whom the employment rate (53%) was above the pre-recession rate.<br> <br> The "monetary" value of childcare remains undervalued. In 2011, childcare and home support workers working full-time (30 hours or more per week) earned an average of $598 per week. This was the third lowest behind full-time chefs and cooks ($545) and retail sales persons ($589). On a more detailed level, babysitters, nannies and parent helpers were the lowest paid occupation from among over 700 occupations in the 2006 Census.<br> <br> -- <a href="" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>

  • 4. Manufacturing Still Struggling

    After eight years of decline, the manufacturing sector created only 15,900 jobs in 2011. Employment in 2011 was about where it was in 1993 and down by 532,200 jobs since the peak in 2004.<br> <br> Based on employment growth over the 2000 to 2011 period, the most rapidly expanding industries in Canada were mining and oil and gas extraction (+70.3%) and construction (+56.4%). Other leading growth industries (all service related) included professional, scientific, technical services (+39.9%), health care and social assistance (+37.9%) and real estate and leasing (+30.1%). <br> <br> -- <a href="" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>

  • 3. Labour Shortages

    For 2011 as a whole, eight (35%) out of the 23 major occupations were in a shortage situation, compared to six occupations in the previous year but still much less than the 10 occupations before the recession began. When examined from an industry basis, there were shortages in five (25%) of the 20 sectors in 2011, up from four during the previous year. <br> <br> In 2011, the unemployment rate among professional occupations in health, nurse supervisors and registered nurses stood at only 0.8%. Unemployment was only 1.9% in technical, assisting and related occupations in health and in professional occupations in business and finance. Demographics point to more shortages in the medium-term.<br> <br> -- <a href="" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>

  • 2. Alberta - The Youth Job-Bringer

    Based on a ranking of 10 youth related indicators, Alberta was the best place for youth in 2011 followed by Saskatchewan in 2nd spot and Quebec in 3rd spot. Next in line were Manitoba (4th), Prince Edward Island (5th), British Columbia (6th), Ontario (7th), New Brunswick (8th), Newfoundland (9th) and Nova Scotia (10th).<br> <br> At the national level, recession is still the reality for youth. Youth employment plummeted by 195,400 jobs in 2009 and 2010 combined but only 19,300 jobs came back in 2011. In 2011, employment rates for all youth slipped further to 55.4% (lowest since 2000), was flat for returning students working in the summer (53.8%) but down a lot for full-time students who were working during the school year (36.6%). <br> <br> In 2011, the unemployment rate improved slightly for all youth (14.2%) but worsened for returning students working in the summer (17.4%).<br> <br> -- <a href="" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>

  • 1. A Greying Workforce

    More and more seniors are working longer. The percentage of those aged 60-64 who are employed rose from 34% in 1989 to 47% in 2011 ... a new record. The percentage of those aged 65-69 who are still working jumped from 11% in 1989 to 23% in 2011 ... another new record. The percentage of the 70 and over group who are still working increased to 6% in 2011 ... one more record high. <br> <br> Over the 1989 to 2011 period, the labour force aged 45-54 more than doubled (+108%), those aged 55-64 also more than doubled (+133%) while those aged 65 and older grew even faster (+180%). <br> <br> The recession delayed retirement for many, as record numbers of persons 60 and older remained in the paid workforce. The median retirement age among men (63.2 years) rose for a third consecutive year in 2011 and was the highest since 2003. The median age of retirement among women increased to 61.4 years in 2011 and is the second highest since 1994.<br> <br> -- <a href="" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>