Hot! Several factors padding our high employment rate

GuelphMercury.com – opinion/columns
May 03 2013. James Gordon, Community Editorial Board

Ahhh, it’s finally looking like spring. Classes are out and young people everywhere are out looking for jobs. This year those jobs are as hard to find as the warm weather.

Here in Ontario, the prospects for youth employment are worse than ever. The national youth unemployment rate is 14.2 per cent, and in our region it’s as much as 16 per cent.

Here in Guelph we often hear that we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country. We hear that from our leaders, and I suppose, those who actually have jobs.

From those out looking for jobs, on the streets and on campus, I am hearing a different story. So who’s right?

As we get ready to debate the new provincial budget, I think it’s time we looked more closely at the overall impact of youth unemployment.

When we talk about jobs, I believe we need to focus the conversation around “good jobs” — jobs that offer a living wage, security, benefits, some potential for the future.

As spring flowers bloom, hope springs too for students who have invested heavily in their post-secondary education. They dream of finding creative, rewarding work in their chosen field. They dream of a job that would allow them the luxury of buying a home, raising a family, that lets them contribute to society, that gives them a chance at being looked after in retirement. How often does this actually happen anymore?

Employment stats don’t reflect the more grim reality of the market. Too many new jobs are junk jobs. Temp jobs. Minimum wage jobs. Jobs with no security. In 2012, 182,000 people between the ages of 16 and 24 couldn’t find work at all and one-quarter of all university graduates couldn’t find work in their field.

If rising tuition fees are leaving students with crippling debt, they cannot buy those homes, be consumers of products manufactured here or be taxpayers contributing to our common wealth, and our drive toward “austerity budgeting” has made our system even more dysfunctional. It actually creates a trickle-up effect. If graduates cannot afford housing, where do they end up? Part of the boomerang generation, they return to living with their parents, who in turn feel a financial stress around that. The effects of youth unemployment extend beyond boomeranging.

In a report issued last summer, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development warned that young people have a greater risk of long-term unemployment than their older, unemployed counterparts.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives argues that the current employment crisis is connected to fear-mongering around deficit reduction, famously exaggerated in last year’s Drummond Report. If, out of fear, we cut social programs, we put our jobless at risk. At the same time, the accompanying tax cuts that are supposedly designed to stimulate the economy line the pockets of the “already rich” and do nothing toward job creation. (Actually, sometimes those corporations benefitting from tax cuts do create jobs — offshore!)

We are learning that the more we cut from a budget, the greater our economic plight becomes. In other words, the cuts have the opposite effect than what they may have been designed to address.

In countries where the economy is turning around, getting people working in secure full-time jobs, paying a living wage is making the difference. Those people can pay off their personal debts, so that eventually we can pay our collective debt! The more people can pay taxes, buy homes and purchase goods instead of relying on government services, the healthier our overall economy is. The upswing starts to snowball. If more people earning a living wage are contributing to our economy, then they create more jobs for manufacturers who have been struggling to find markets. It’s a win-win situation.

In Germany, tuition is free, an investment in the future generation that is paying off. What do we do here? Our provincial government is cutting programs and support for students, and making it harder to get an education without massive personal debt.

I believe we need to focus on job creation and restoring public funding to post-secondary institutions, rather than tax cuts. If we are offering incentives to large corporations, those incentives need to be attached to creating real jobs, not junk jobs that look good on the stats but leave too many of us behind.

We need to invest in our youth now, not just for them, but for the well-being of all of us!

James Gordon is a member of the Guelph Mercury Community Editorial Board.

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