When Bank of Canada Governor Stephen Poloz commented recently that unemployed youth can advance their careers by volunteering their services instead of expecting to be paid, he inadvertently unleashed a firestorm of criticism.
At the same time, he was merely giving voice to a rather obvious fact confronting younger job-seekers.
One of the perks of the position of the Governor of the Bank of Canada, going back to at least the days of David Dodge, is that it provides a bully pulpit to weigh in on economic issues of wider public interest than monetary policy. This is appropriate given the broad context within which the Bank operates, but, as Stephen Poloz now knows, the ability to gain widespread public attention comes with a downside.
Governor Poloz was widely criticized recently for his suggestion that unemployed young people should volunteer or consider working for free in order to improve their longer term prospects in a poor job market. Outraged youth rightly noted that it is only the children of the affluent who can afford to work for free, and that unpaid internships are often highly exploitative.
Young people lag behind in Canada's economic recovery, with rates of unemployment and underemployment still significantly above pre-recession levels. The danger is that this will have a permanent scarring effect on many youth, with long-term negative implications for both our economy and our society.
It is often forgotten that Canada still has a large “echo baby boom” youth age cohort, with some 4.4 million persons age 15 to 24 now transitioning into the paid work force. They will all be needed in a few years just to replace “baby boomer” retirees, and our economic prospects will be brighter if our future work force gains relevant skills and experience today.
Data from the 2011 National Household Survey (NHS) which replaced the long- form census indicate that racial status remains a significant factor in shaping advantage and disadvantage in the Canadian job market and in influencing the overall level of poverty and income inequality.
Put bluntly, non-whites do significantly worse than whites, in part because of racial discrimination.
When I first conceived of my year-long project on the working world for the Calgary Herald’s Michelle Lang Fellowship, I have to admit, most of my proposal was based on a hunch. Through straw polls, coffee banter with friends and colleagues, discussions with my own parents and, of course, my own experience in the job market, I was fairly certain I wasn’t the only one gazing at an uncertain economic future with some apprehension.
To back up my pitch, I assembled a smattering of news stories pointing out the dismal projections for younger workers, growing income inequality, boomers delaying retirement and the like.
But when it came to my thesis – namely that the working world is changing and we’re not feeling all that great about it – there was very little evidence out there to prove that I wasn’t just butting up against the walls of my own little bubble.
Turns out the folks at the Broadbent Institute, an Ottawa-based think tank, felt the same. In response to the same dinnertime conversation I was picking up on, they decided to commission a poll to determine just how widespread concern over job prospects and economic futures for younger workers is.
The results, published today, show anxiety over the changing face of work, and all the social challenges it implies, runs deep across the generations.
The poll surveyed 1,064 boomers aged 50-65 and 983 millennials aged 20-30 about their experiences in the work force and sheds some much-needed light on how Canadians are feeling about the economy. The figures were weighted to reflect census data on population age, gender, education and region.
So, what do the numbers say? Many boomers and millennials are anxious about the younger generation’s job prospects, homeownership potential and ability to fund social programs through taxes.
Interestingly, boomer parents seem to be more pessimistic about their children’s future than millennials are about their own prospects. Nearly half of boomers, 49 per cent, feel their kids are facing a poorer future than they had, while 34 per cent of millennials feel they are worse off than their parents.
But at the same time, millennials know they are facing a working life with fewer guarantees. More than half anticipated a career where contract work played a role, compared to 14 per cent of boomers who said they faced the same instability in their own careers. Meanwhile, only a third of millennials were confident they’d own their homes at retirement, compared to more than half of boomers, and one in five millennials say they don’t know anyone with an employer-funded pension.
Rick Smith, executive director of the Broadbent Institute, said he wasn’t surprised to find a high level of angst across age cohorts, but he didn’t anticipate seeing so much agreement between the generations on possible causes of economic instability. A significant majority of both generations expressed a high level of distrust for corporations, he noted, with both blaming irresponsible corporate behaviour for bringing on the 2008 financial crisis.
“Our starting point was very similar to yours: is this our imagination or not?” Smith said in an interview Monday.
“If you were to rank likely topics of dinner-time conversation in Canada these days, youth unemployment is high on that list. These numbers bear out that anecdotal experience.”
Smith said the results of the poll will be used to inform policy recommendations coming out of a summit the institute is holding later this month in Ottawa.
Here are some other highlights from the survey (which you can read here). I’m interested to know if you agree, send me an email or leave a comment below and let me know how you’re feeling about your work prospects.
Just over half, 52 per cent, of millennials expect contract work to make up a significant part of their working lives, either alone or in conjunction with permanent jobs. In contrast, 14 per cent of boomers said their work lives relied on contract work;
39 per cent of millennials anticipate a career comprised of permanent jobs, compared to 66 per cent of boomers who experienced permanent employment;
Millennials with university degrees were more likely to anticipate a career encompassing contract work than those with high school or college education;
70 per cent of millennials and 78 per cent of boomers cite irresponsible business behaviour as the cause of the 2008 recession;
60 per cent of millennials anticipate the gap between rich and poor to grow during their lifetime;
55 per cent of millennials and 59 per cent of boomers say declining enrolment in unions has made good jobs harder to find;
48 per cent of millennials and 60 per cent of boomers say reduced corporate tax rates have not resulted in more investment in creating jobs in Canada.
The poll does not provide a margin of error because it is not a random, probability-based sample.