December 7, 2016
Precariousness & Poverty for Young Workers: StatsCan Report
This Monday, Statistics Canada released a report that confirms what young people already knew: youth jobs are few, temporary and part-time. Canada’s so-called “recovery” economy has little to offer youth besides precariousness and poverty.
The report, entitled “Perspectives on the Youth Labour Market in Canada, 1976 to 2015”, focuses on young workers aged 15-24 who are not enrolled as full-time students and compares this generation to past generations of the same age group.
Youth unemployment remains high at the official rate of 13.2% averaged over 2015, which is well over double that of the unemployment rate for all ages. However, it is the nature of the work available and wages that show the greatest deterioration over the last four decades. Full-time and permanent work has declined sharply since the mid-1970s.
As the report says: “Of all young individuals who are not full-time students, proportionately fewer are now employed full-time – that is, in jobs that involve at least 30 work hours per week – than they were four decades ago. Among those who are employed full time, a greater percentage hold temporary jobs.”
In 1976-1978, the percentage of those youth with a full-time job averaged about 76% for men aged 17-24 and 58% for women. Today’s full-time employment rate is 59% for men and 49% for women.
What has caused this? The report points out that the shift to part-time work is because that is all the capitalist class has decided to offer today: “… the decline in youth full-time employment rates was driven mainly by increases in the incidence of part-time employment rather than by decreases in youth labour force participation or increases in youth unemployment.”
Along with the growth of part-time work is the growth of temporary employment among full-time young workers. While these figures only started being recorded in 1989, since then temporary jobs have increased by 16 percentage points for women and 14 percentage points for men. This demonstrates that even those young workers who can find full-time work are increasingly having their jobs become temporary positions.
The spending power of wages has also not kept up, despite massive growth in the economy over the last four decades. This means that workers are taking home a smaller share of the wealth they produce in today’s economy.
Here’s the story of young workers’ wages over the last thirty-five years: full-time young workers saw their real hourly wages drop by 15% for men and 10% for women from the early 80s to the early 90s. From 2004 until the economic crisis hit Canadian wages in 2009, median hourly wages grew as Tar Sands development and general economic activity grew. But these gains have not made up the previous losses: “The net result was that by 2015, young full-time male employees had median wages that were about 10% lower than those of their counterparts in the early 1980s. For females, the difference was 3%.”
This does not mean that the gendered wage gap in Canada is closing however, just that young male full-time workers had farther to fall. In fact, the overall wage gap has increased in the recent period. Earlier this year a report showed that in 2009, women in Canada earned on average 74.4 per cent of what men earned. In 2010, it was 73.6 per cent, and in 2011, it was 72 per cent, roughly where it remains today.
As can be seen earlier in this article, young women have a 10% lower full-time employment rate than young men and hold proportionally higher temporary full-time jobs as opposed to permanent. This partially explains the widening wage gap. This is a wage gap that is also racialized as it is gendered. Racialized women earn only 64 cents, and Indigenous women 46 cents, for every dollar earned by men of all age groups.
What to do about it?
A debate on youth unemployment and precarious work has started in Ottawa after years of ignoring the growing crisis. But what is on offer is either more of what has brought the pain, or painfully inadequate.
In a response to the StatsCan report, Rachael Harder, the Conservative Youth Critic, said that the government needs to do more to invest in oil and gas (hand over more cash to the industry that is threatening the planet), and give students more access to loans (increase student debt levels while encouraging higher tuition fees). Even if we put aside climate change as perhaps the most important political issue of our time for a moment, the Tar Sands industry has shown that it has very little to offer young people besides uprooting them and putting them in an economically unstable field. Higher debt levels for students would mean adding fuel to the fire for hundreds of thousands of university and college graduates.
Meanwhile the Liberals promised increased funding for the federal Youth Employment Strategy before and after the election. The government is planning on spending $219 million this year on the Youth Employment Strategy (YES). This consists of increased help for youth accessing jobs and training and incentives to business to create jobs (subsidies). Social services and grants to help youth can have an impact, but spending here remains low. Subsidies to business to create youth jobs and summer employment are essentially hand-outs of public money to the private sector that do not create a long-term change in the economy towards permanent, full-time employment.
The real Liberal agenda for young workers was expressed this fall by Finance Minister Bill Morneau to the Federal Liberal’s Ontario wing: "How do we train and retrain people as they move from job to job to job? Because it's going to happen. We have to accept that.'' In other words, the neoliberal economy with its “flexible” labour market are here to stay, so how do we train the workers of tomorrow so they can be effective precarious workers in a variety of fields.
The good news is that young workers are not as accepting of the status quo as the Finance Minister. Morneau’s comments were cited as one of the reasons that young workers’ turned their backs in protest on the Prime Minister when he was speaking at the recent Canadian Labour Congress Young Workers’ Summit.
“Fight for $15” campaigns have sprung up in most provinces across Canada. Last April saw the first cross-Canada day of action with more than 20 cities participating. The struggle to increase the minimum wage, often accompanied by other demands against precarious work and for unionization are a direct challenge to the Liberal government’s approach of finding the right training to fit the labour market. There is not one province or territory in Canada that has a minimum wage that is above the poverty line, even if workers are able to find full-time work. This injustice has become a flashpoint for collective action, often involving union and non-union young workers.
Present struggles and labour history both demonstrate that the collective action of workers can change what big business is prepared to offer. We do not have to “accept” it.
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