Student unemployment rates in Ontario reached almost 30 per cent during the height of the pandemic
In April 2019, Jaclyn Cunningham, a Ryerson graduate, had just earned her bachelor degree in biology. She was hired to work with visitors at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Hamilton, Ont., shortly after graduating.
By March 2020, the gardens had shut down and Cunningham was laid off indefinitely. Like so many young people in Canada, Cunningham will have to wait out the pandemic before she can go back to her job.
In April 2020, student unemployment rates in Ontario reached almost 30 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. That’s a higher youth unemployment rate than any year since 1976, which is as far back as the data on their website goes.
It’s not that young people aren’t trying to find work, as stereotypes about millennials and the comment sections of several CBC articles about youth out of work might suggest. Cunningham said she is applying for other jobs.
With the lockdown providing her with more free time, Kristyn Landry, a Ryerson student who doesn’t normally work during the school year, said she would now like to find a job. “Problem is, because of the pandemic, places aren’t really hiring at all,” she said.
Last summer, the federal government revamped the Canada Summer Jobs (CSJ) program in an effort to provide work opportunities to young people. However, Canadian youth continue to face unemployment, job loss and financial instability to a greater degree than any other demographic, according to a recent Ipsos poll.
But now the summer is long over. Googling “student support during COVID” directs you to the Canada Emergency Student Benefit, which is no longer available.
The types of jobs available to young people have narrowed. Jason Stapf, who just got his film degree, can’t find a job because there is little film production. “My degree is getting me nowhere,” he said.
Entering the job market during a recession can have lasting effects on a group’s success for years to come, according to a report from the Royal Bank of Canada. A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that when young people are not able to start gaining skills and experience, it sets their careers back by years and prevents them from beginning to grow financial wealth.
Instead of working in their fields, young people have to pivot. “I just accepted a job answering phones and helping people make vaccine appointments,” said Stapf.
Although students aren’t getting the jobs they may have expected to have, some remain optimistic. While COVID-19 is nowhere near over, the student unemployment rate has dropped back to approximately 20 per cent, reported Statistics Canada.
Although the 2021 federal budget has yet to be released, the Chartered Professional Accountants of Canada (CPA) have released their pre-budget recommendations, making specific reference to youth unemployment.
“For policy-makers, an important consideration is that the impacts of this recession have not been evenly distributed,” wrote CPA. “Job losses have disproportionately impacted women, younger workers and those in low-wage occupations.”
CPA recommends that policymakers focus specifically on ensuring that Canadians have marketable skills and the support they need to adapt to the new employment market. Whether or not this will translate into tangible support for young people remains to be seen.