‘New Deal’ needed for young Canadians facing variety of economic pressuresPublished on 27 February 2015 Publications by Senator Art Eggleton
In the spring of 2014, the Senate Liberals opened our caucus doors to Canadians. Through our Open Caucus initiative the Senate Liberals aim to learn to discuss issues of national importance with a panel of expert witnesses. Though this effort is hosted by the Senate Liberals, the caucus encourages the participation of all Parliamentarians, and strive to include a variety of points of view during these sessions. The public is encouraged to attend as well.
On Feb. 25, the Open Caucus sat to learn about the increasing pressures on young individuals in Canada today. Already facing high rates of unemployment, Canadians 45 and under are being pressured by rising home prices and increasing student debt, forcing them to delay milestones such as buying a home or starting a family. Compounding these issues is a decrease in real wages and secure employment when compared to the experiences of their parents.
James Knowles of the Conference Board of Canada noted that relative incomes for young Canadians are lower today than they were for their parents and that, “young Canadians are going to face hard choices about which of life’s milestones are more important to them. Is it raising children, or owning a home, or saving for retirement? Because with relatively lower incomes they are going to struggle to achieve these.”
Those thoughts were echoed by Paul Kershaw, associate professor at the University of British Columbia and founder of the Generation Squeeze campaign. “In 1976 it took the typical 25-year-old working full time five years to save for a 20 per cent down payment on an average home. … Today across the country it takes twice as long, 10 years,” he said.
The quality of job prospects is also looking relatively bleak when compared to a generation ago. As Michelle Biss of Canada Without Poverty noted, the types of employment options for young people are often precarious, with more part-time work and not long-term work. “There certainly is something to be said about the reality that the types of employment available to young people now … are very different than the realities 20 or 30 years ago,” she said.
Compounding these pressures is the almost total focus on programs for Canadians 65 and over. Generation Squeeze recently released a study showing that between $33,000 and $40,000 a year is spent per person on individuals 65 and over, on important programs such as medical care and old age security. “By contrast,” Mr. Kershaw noted, “we spend a fraction of that, between $10,000 and $11,500 a year per person under 45 on everything-grade school, medical care, post-secondary-everything in the kitchen sink adds up to less than we spend on medical care each year for my grandmother.”
To address these hurdles, Mr. Knowles suggested that universities and colleges need to better align their programs with labour market needs. Today’s youth are completing post-secondary education only to find that their skillsets do not match those desired by employers. “They are spending a lot of money to get this education that doesn’t actually train them to do anything that is useful in the work place,” he said.
Julian Deans of Futurepreneur Canada noted that parents and schools need to get out of the mindset that the path they took to obtain long-term, stable employment also applies to their children. Entrepreneurial skills, which are becoming increasingly important in today’s job market, are not yet appropriately reflected in our approaches to training young Canadians.
Businesses also have a responsibility to train young Canadians. Mr. Kershaw noted that “a generation ago the private sector viewed a degree as a signal that a person was competent with a range of skills, and then trained them for specific on-the-job-needs.”
Young Canadians also need a policy shift by all levels of government. Mr. Kershaw suggested a ‘New Deal’ for young Canadian families is needed through “nuanced investment in family policy that would make family time more affordable … and by reducing the costs of childcare, which costs more than university tuition.”
To make this happen, the panel agreed that young people need to organize and get more engaged in politics at the provincial and federal levels to make it politically worthwhile for parties to include programs for young Canadians in their platforms.
The Senate Liberal Caucus will be holding its next meeting on March 11 to discuss income inequality, and will discuss youth engagement in politics on April 1.