Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Back to school no antidote to unemployment

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Post-secondary students are heading back into classrooms next week, holding onto the hope an institutional parchment is going to be the magic talisman to protect them from a future wearing a barista's apron. Their parents are equally hopeful, as they dole out thousands of dollars for tuition, books, supplies and the ubiquitous student union fees. A post-secondary education is supposed to be an inoculator against joblessness and poverty, isn't it? Well, perhaps, but it's no guarantee.

And neither the provincial nor the federal government seems to be taking serious action on the issue.

Here are some statistics. Unemployment levels for young people (defined by Statistics Canada as 15 to 24 years of age) are more than double that of workers aged 25 to 54. Stats Can documents say that 14.3 per cent of youth workers, actively looking for work, are unemployed. Only six per cent of workers aged 25 to 54 are.

University graduates' unemployment rates are lower than those with a high school education, but that gap is narrowing compared with 1999. A CIBC report last year found Canada has the highest proportion of adults in post-secondary education, yet, compared with other OECD countries, we also have the highest number of university grads making below the national median income. In other words, a university degree is not translating to high-paying or even average-paying positions.

So how much attention has the youth unemployment problem garnered in the House of Commons or in the provincial legislature? Surely if the UN secretary general can describe youth unemployment as epidemic and a major challenge for our times, shouldn't we have seen the government and the opposition members rising to their feet calling for action?

Those are crickets, boys and girls.

At the federal level, a report was tabled outlining potential solutions to youth unemployment, suggesting in part that there needs to be more studies done.

When you go to the website for the Conservative Party of Canada, there is something about jobs featured prominently. A link titled Jobs, Growth and Long Term Prosperity takes you to a web page that talks about job creation, but young people aren't expressly referenced and so it's clear this is a cohort that's not on the Conservatives' radar screen.

Manitoba fares slightly better. The NDP does talk about youth unemployment. According to the NDP, in Manitoba our youth unemployment levels aren't as high as the national numbers but still, the Manitoba budget in February did very little to address the issue.

Some may say, and indeed the Conservatives do, that creating a healthy, strong economy will generate jobs that will translate into increased employment for our young. But there's no guarantee and young people, particularly newly minted post-secondary grads do not seem to be targeted in any job-creation plan.

Perhaps it's because young people don't vote and so their demographic will not translate into an identifiable campaign strategy. But you know what? Their parents do. Every mom and dad who has spent a sleepless night worrying about whether junior is going to move out of the basement is a vote that could be courted.

The first party that addresses this issue with more than just empty rhetoric could find pledges of support from worried parents and their offspring. Because when you talk to these folks about underemployment and unemployment, what you hear is a lot of fear, mostly fear that the future generation will not be as successful as the previous one. And maybe things are going to get worse. A depressing thought on a Labour Day weekend in 2014.

Editorials are the consensus view of the Winnipeg Free Press’ editorial board, comprising Catherine Mitchell, David O’Brien, Shannon Sampert, and Paul Samyn.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 30, 2014 A16

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