Vital Signs Reports paint a stark picture of youth unemployment across Canada

| October 8, 2014
Photo: flickr/Jamie McCaffrey

Stability is not in the cards for Canadian workers, with young workers particularly affected, according to this year's Vital Signs Reports from the Community Foundations of Canada.

The first Vital Signs was produced by the Toronto Community Foundation in 2001. It assembled local research and national data to paint a broad strokes picture of community health. Since its inception the Vitals project has expanded to include a total of 49 Canadian communities big and small, who have produced reports or are acting on findings from previous reports.

From the perspective of work and labour, the reports give some strong indicators of how Canadian communities are performing in the wake of the global economic recession. On a whole, the figures seem to show economic recovery, with slow but steady growth in employment but not necessarily stability for Canadian workers, as part-time and minimum wage jobs make up a greater proportion of the job market.

The reports show some particularly stark figures for young workers aged 15 to 29. 

In Edmonton, 14,000 fewer young people are employed than were in 2008, and youth disproportionately earn low wages with 52.9 per cent of employed youth receiving $15 an hour or less. Not surprisingly, youth also represent the highest portion of the overall poverty rate. 

In Nova Scotia, Newfoundland and Labrador, youth unemployment rates are higher than the national average. However in Nova Scotia, young males are being hit hardest, with 21.4 per cent unemployment, whereas in Newfoundland females face higher unemployment rates with 18 per cent.

In Toronto, though the overall youth unemployment rate is down from 20.75 per cent in 2012 to 17.6 per cent in 2013, that figure is still more than double the overall unemployment rate of 8.8 per cent. Moreover, the unemployment rate for recent immigrant youth in Canada is ten per cent higher, ringing in at an alarming 27 per cent. 

In Calgary, where the unemployment rate is lower than the national average, wages are not keeping up the rising cost of living, as indicated by the fact that at least 40 per cent of Calgary's drop-in centre's homeless population is employed.

The report also shows that Toronto has increased its significance as the job mecca of Canada. Almost one in three jobs created in Canada between 2010 and 2013 were in the Toronto Region. However, with the decline of Ontario's manufacturing, most of those jobs were in the service sector. Where job growth has occurred, reports indicate that part-time jobs are outgrowing full-time work, with the part-time employment rate growing by 4.2 per cent in 2013.

"Its a pretty scary time for young workers right now," says Angella MacEwen, Senior Economist at the Canadian Labour Council. "Research shows that 40 per cent young workers between age 20-29 live at home with their parents and those four in ten are lucky that they even have those resources. We are not capturing the full potential of our youth." 

Morever, says MacEwen, today's high youth unemployment speaks to trouble down the road. "The looming labour market issue is that these young workers that are underemployed or unemployed right now aren't getting the training they need. We are going to need the skills of these workers in say, ten years when the boomers retire."

In order to develop a transition plan for the Canadian workforce we need innovative solutions from employers, government and labour.

MacEwan suggests mentorship and apprenticeship programs that pay young workers to gain experience are a good place to start.

Ella Bedard is rabble.ca's labour intern. She has written about labour issues for Dominion.ca and the Halifax Media Co-op and is the co-producer of the radio documentary The Amelie: Canadian Refugee Policy and the Story of the 1987 Boat People. She now lives in Toronto where she enjoys chasing the labour beat, biking and birding.

Photo: flickr/Jamie McCaffrey

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