What kind of future are young workers in Canada, 2014, looking at?
I can remember facing that future with confidence when I was somewhat younger. I didn’t enter the workforce saddled with enormous student loan debts. There were jobs, good jobs, out there. Things would be all right. And I’d end up being better off than my parents, because that’s the way things had always been, or so people said.
Flashforward to now, and none of these things are true. The so-called “millennials”—all 8 million of them—are deeply uneasy about their future, according to a poll conducted for the Broadbent Institute. And so are the “boomers,” who believe their kids will fall behind rather than move up. Neither parents or children have faith that corporations will create the new jobs needed. And boomers nearing retirement are afraid that tax revenues will be insufficient to cover the social services they will need.
The Broadbent Institute’s report makes grim reading. Only 14% of their parents worked contract jobs or a mix of contract and permanent employment, but 52% of millennials expect to live their working lives this way. Only 39% of them have any expectation of steady, permanent employment. Only 30% know people who have workplace pension plans, and 20% know of no one who does. Half of the boomers believe that they will own a house when they retire: only a third of the millennials have any such hope.
More than half of both generations, however, are agreed: lower union membership makes good jobs more scarce.
Meanwhile, the uphill climb is a steep one for millennials. Employer demands for a two-tier wage system is a fact of life in the present economy, condemning younger workers to a permanent low-wage existence. And abuses in the Temporary Foreign Workers program make even McJobs far less available to them. The Harper government’s expressions of shock when the abuses at come to light doesn’t hide the fact that it issued the permits in the first place—or that 75% of all new jobs over the past few years have gone to imported temporary workers.
Overall, workers in the 15-24 age group are facing high levels of unemployment, and employment prospects are getting worse. Despite popular accusations of “entitlement,” many young people have taken years to train for careers, and have the degrees to prove it, but now find themselves in low-skilled jobs because better work simply isn’t available.
It’s no surprise that many of these bright millennials are turning to unionization as a solution to the low-wage trap they have found themselves in. This is “bottom-up” pressure that is bound to pay dividends now and in the future for the workers who engage in it, and for society as a whole. Higher rates of unionization mean better, more secure employment, and the possibility of facing the future with confidence.
What is also badly needed in Canada, however—and what the new generation of workers isn’t getting from the present government—is a national jobs strategy that actually creates opportunities for young people to put their training, skills and intelligence to good use, in productive careers. Everyone would benefit from that, no matter what generation they are. But our youth, it seems, have a long way to go before that Spring arrives.