Much like nearly half of the country, I was hoping Prime Minister Justin Trudeau wouldn’t call an early election in the midst of a pandemic, but here we are.
Canada’s federal election will take place on Sept. 20, so the Liberals, Conservatives, New Democrats and Greens have just a few days left to convince young Canadians to vote in their favour. Top of mind for gen Zs and millennials? Employment.
Unemployment rates for young Canadians increased by six per cent from 2019 to 2020 — roughly twice that of older Canadians, a Statistics Canada study about youth employment published last month revealed. Indeed, by 2020, the unemployment rate for Canadians aged 15 to 30 who weren’t in school full-time hovered just under 15 per cent. This has been a trend since COVID-19’s arrival in March 2020 when the number of post-secondary working students dropped by 28 per cent from the previous month.
As StatsCan says, this relatively high unemployment rate suggests young Canadians joining the labour force “might see lower earnings in the years following graduation than they would have in a more dynamic labour market.”
There’s a clear need for a post-pandemic recovery plan that supports gen Zs and millennials in getting jobs. Some even had to sacrifice internships and other entry-level opportunities that would’ve given them a foot in the door because COVID-19’s arrival not only meant that working out of the office wasn’t an option, but also that many companies weren’t yet prepared for the transition to remote working.
Case in point: One of my fellows who graduated from journalism school in the spring of 2020 lost out on a school-funded reporting trip to Rwanda and an internship — which could have led to a permanent job — because the newsroom decided not to bring on interns after the pandemic’s arrival. To make matters worse, due to his unique circumstances as someone who graduated right before COVID-19 hit, he neither qualified for Canada’s Employment Insurance (EI) program nor the Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) because he hadn’t started working yet.
He told me the CESB wasn’t enough to support him, so he’s been living with his parents during the pandemic. The Canada Emergency Student Benefit (CESB) provided a scant $1,250 per month for eligible students from May through August 2020, and $1,750 per month for students with dependents and those with permanent disabilities. In most major Canadian cities, that amount would barely cover the cost of one month’s rent for a studio apartment.
Young Canadians with disabilities, who are less likely to be employed than their non-disabled counterparts, have even bigger economic barriers to overcome. Indeed, the election announcement effectively killed Bill C-35, the proposed Canada Disability Benefit Act, which aims to reduce poverty and support the financial security of working-age Canadians with disabilities.
As part of Canada’s post-pandemic economic recovery plan, our parties would do well to create green jobs. Not only will they contribute to the fight against climate change, which is a priority issue for gen Zs and millennials, these jobs will also help young Canadians get back to work. They include opportunities in the sectors of renewable energy, environmental protection, sustainable urban planning and more, as well as low-carbon jobs like teaching and care-worker roles.
Despite some resistance to a snap election as the delta variant of COVID-19 picks up, our country’s politicians have an opportunity to improve the financial future of young Canadians across the country during a time when they’re struggling economically.
Now’s the time to shore up our youngest generations and future leaders.
Anita Li is a media strategist and consultant with a decade of experience as a multi-platform journalist at outlets across North America. She is also a journalism instructor at Ryerson University, the City University of New York’s Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism and Centennial College. She is the co-founder of Canadian Journalists of Colour, a rapidly growing network of BIPOC media-makers in Canada, as well as a member of the 2020-21 Online News Association board of directors. To keep up with Anita Li, subscribe to The Other Wave, her newsletter about challenging the status quo in journalism.