MONTREAL ― Nearly one in four Canadians under the age of 30 were neither in school or work as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded this spring, Statistics Canada says.
With jobs for youth coming back more slowly than jobs for others, some experts are growing worried Canada could be held back for years as an entire generation struggles to get its feet on the ground.
“Youth who go unemployed for longer periods of time, evidence has shown, have problems further on in life with maintaining employment,” said Tim Lang, president of Toronto charity Youth Employment Services (YES).
“So it’s critical that youth get employment as quickly as they can.”
In a report issued Thursday, Statistics Canada found that 24 per cent of Canadians aged 15 to 29 were “NEET” ― not in employment, education or training ― as of April of this year. That’s double the rate in February, before the pandemic.
Among teens, much of this spike was attributed to disrupted classes during the spring lockdowns. But among those in their 20s, massive job losses were behind the sudden spike in idleness, Statistics Canada said.
Between February and April, one out of every three jobs held by this group disappeared, and ― with large parts of the service sector still in lockdown ― they aren’t coming back very quickly.
The jobless rate for youth was 23.4 per cent in August, compared to 10.2 per cent for Canada as a whole.
This reality could have negative consequences for this generation of Canadians for years to come. Research shows that people who experience unemployment early in their career will earn less than they otherwise would for at least a decade, and potentially for their entire lives.
A recent OECD report attempted to estimate what the loss of skills due to the COVID-19 disruption to work and school could cost the economy. In their baseline scenario, the disruption to education reduced the size of the economy by 1.5 per cent permanently. For an economy of Canada’s size, that means hundreds of billions of dollars of unrealized wealth, and a lower standard of living.
Despite the dreary numbers, Lang urges youth to stay focused.
“Now is a chance to re-skill and retrain if you’re out of work through no fault of your own,” Lang told HuffPost Canada.
He applauded Canada’s governments for responding quickly to the jobs crisis, but urged them to do more to raise awareness of programs and organizations ― such as his own ― that help youth find work.
Lang noted ruefully that the WE Charity scandal “gave a bit of a black eye to the non-profit sector,” but noted that there are organizations other than WE out there working to help youth.
The charity he heads, Toronto-based YES, has been training youth to work in cloud computing, boasting a 90-per-cent success rate in placing youth in jobs.
Lang has mixed feelings about the government’s income supports, the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) and the Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB).
While the programs helped many stay afloat during the lockdown, they may be harming rehiring at this point, Lang said.
“There are still many businesses who are looking for employees, and many companies said they couldn’t rehire (former employees) because of CERB,” he said.
He worries young Canadians may be missing opportunities on the assumption that there are none right now.
“Believe it or not, even though youth unemployment is so high, there are still jobs to be had,” he said.