Part-time work, job interviews and long-awaited internships have all disappeared for post-secondary students who were in the process of updating resumes for the summer break when a pandemic was declared.
This week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced a plan tailored to students to alleviate financial strain — an expansion of the annual Canada Summer Jobs Program expected to create as many as 70,000 jobs, with the government offering wage subsidies up to 100 per cent.
That’s in addition to Ottawa’s emergency benefit plan, which provides Canadians who have lost work due to COVID-19 with $2,000 per month for up to 16 weeks.
But students say gaps in financial aid persist, and in turn, their savings for tuition and living expenses are being drained rapidly.
"This will be the first time in a long time that I can’t work — and not because it's my own choice. A lot of places aren’t hiring or offering jobs," said Mahlet Cuff, a third-year women and gender studies student at the University of Winnipeg.
Cuff, the vice-president of external affairs at the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association, is the force behind a campaign to encourage her classmates to contact their local MP to demand income security for students.
Her term in student politics is up at the end of the month. With limited summer work opportunities to follow, she worries she’ll have to take a semester off to try to find some kind of work and save up for school.
She said she's heard from many students in similar situations, with concerns ranging from parents worried about juggling courses and childcare costs without an income to international students fearing job loss will affect their visas.
Micah Doerksen, a fourth-year student at U of W studying education, typically works two part-time jobs throughout the school year — an office job and server position. His restaurant hours were completely slashed when his employer was forced to close last month. He now makes a total of $900 per month from his minimum-wage data entry gig.
"I haven’t lost my income, but my income has been more than halved. I really hope they support part-time people in my situation," he said.
Also this week, Trudeau hinted at expanding emergency fund eligibility.
In the meantime, Doerksen said he’s in an odd position where his prospective summer job interviews have been cancelled so he is somewhat hopeful his office work contract won’t be renewed next month due to COVID-19 so he can apply for government support.
"A lot of education students, we either do day camps or we do those types of learning programs or we do vocational things; it’s really hard because I don’t know what to do this summer," he said.
Doerksen added he’s been thinking often about a paper he wrote in a Canadian history class this year that was about work camps enacted during the Great Depression. He submitted it during what feels like a very long time ago, when he never could have imagined the entire workforce would soon be facing massive disruptions that have put hundreds of thousands of people out of work — students included.
Maggie Macintosh reports on education for the Winnipeg Free Press. Funding for the Free Press education reporter comes from the Government of Canada through the Local Journalism Initiative.
Updated on Friday, April 10, 2020 at 11:08 AM CDT: Corrects to 16 weeks of payment.