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What recovery? For young Canadians, labour market as bad as during the recession

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OTTAWA - Whether jobs are created or lost on any given month, the one constant in Canada's post-recession employment record has been that for young people, the news has always bad.

And the lack of progress in job creation for young Canadians is becoming a political liability for the Harper government that continues to boast of having the best employment record in the G7.

Opposition Liberal MPs took turns Friday hammering the government on the issue after Statistics Canada released the latest labour market report showing a net gain of 12,500 jobs for the month of April, but a loss of 18,800 jobs for the 15-24 age group.

Liberal critic Rodger Cuzner zeroed in on Conservative ads promoting the government's "Economic Action Plan," noting that for the $95,000 cost of airing one spot during the NHL playoffs, 32 summer jobs could be created.

"Four hundred thousand young Canadians are looking for work and they have turned their backs on them. Last year was the worst year recorded for summer work in our country and they are on their way to beat their own record," he said.

Heritage Minister James Moore rejected the criticism, saying the government had announced plans to create 36,000 jobs for students this summer.

"We are delivering for all Canadians ... for young Canadians, for middle class Canadians, in all regions of the country," he said.

The data on youth employment suggests otherwise, however. April was a bad month for youth, but it was hardly an anomaly.

Since the end of the 2008-09 recession, Canada has created more than 910,000 new jobs, twice what was lost during the slump. But for young workers, the numbers show no rebound at all — 254,000 jobs were shed during the slump, and since then, rather than recovery, there's been an additional 3,000 jobs lost.

That has kept unemployment among 15-24 year olds not in school at a relatively high 14.5 per cent — more that double that of other age groups — but even that does not tell the whole story, says Angella MacEwen, a senior economist with the Canadian Labour Congress.

Add part-timers who want full-time jobs, those in unpaid internships and discouraged young Canadians, and the jobless rate rises to 21 per cent.

Meanwhile, the participation rate — the number working in relation to the population in that age group — has fallen from above 60 per cent to 54.5 per cent.

"It's a pretty bleak picture for young people, especially when you factor in rising house prices and the high cost of tuition," says MacEwen.

"And it's not because the skills they are getting in universities (don't match available jobs)," she added. "There are long lines of young Canadians waiting to get into trades. There is a two-year waiting line to be an electrician and Nova Scotia and we're graduating lots of engineers and scientists."

TD Bank economist Francis Fong, who has issued several papers on youth employment, says young workers suffer the most whenever there is an economic crisis, and in fact, the situation was worse for the age group during and following the 1991-92 recession. He notes it took until 1998 before the employment rate among youth started recovering, long after other workers.

"The job market for youth always takes a long time to recover," he says. "I'm not going to say it's going to be as bad as the 90s, but it still might be some time before we see some recovery in the job market for youth."

Fong believes the main reason is that there is still a "glut" in the overall labour market and given a choice between hiring those with experience and those without, employers are more likely to choose the former. As well, older workers are holding on to their jobs longer.

The CLC's MacEwen says the government needs to give employers incentives to hire youth, as well as help pay for on-the-job training.

CLC president Ken Georgetti says young Canadians who lose their jobs are further disadvantaged because often they have not worked long enough to qualify for unemployment benefits. He said on 13 per cent of unemployed young workers were able to collect employment insurance benefits in 2012.

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