Three and a half years after launching Today’s economy, the interview I remember most vividly was a young man who struggled to find work after graduating from university in 2008. Eric completed an undergraduate degree in communications, but he’d come to regret that because he couldn’t find steady work. Just two years after graduation, he was disillusioned. “[I]f I could go back in time and change things, I probably would follow a different path,” he told me. “I’d probably go into science. There are so many more career opportunities right now, especially if you want to make a lot of money.”
That kind of pragmatism isn’t normally required of kids in their early 20s, but then Eric had good reason for getting over his dream of writing for a living. After moving back and forth between short-term contracts and unpaid internships, the stress had gotten to him.
“It was insane,” Eric said. “It was crazy. I’ve never felt that type of stress in my life. I had a couple of panic attacks, and I’ve never been prone to anxiety. It was just an overwhelming situation. All the odds are against you. Everyone is just kind of pushing you and pushing you, and eventually you’re just pushed to the brink.”
Eric’s not alone, according to a new report from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Unemployment among 15- to 24-year-olds was 16.1% across OECD countries this past April. That’s more than double the total unemployment rate among workers.
In Canada, unemployment among young adults has been stuck around 15% since July 2009 when employment rates hit a low across the country. Our national unemployment rate is 7.2%.
I called Nancy Schaefer, president of Youth Employment Services to learn more about the implications of these numbers. Established in 1968, Schaefer’s organization was the country’s first youth employment counselling centre. Today it serves more than 110,000 young Canadians.
The difference between this recession and previous recessions is the pace of the recovery, Schaefer said. “It’s like a jobless recovery for young people.”
Extended periods of unemployment are never easy. But they can be especially damaging in the early years of a career, when professionals ought to be gaining experience and establishing themselves financially.
“Some young people are getting good degrees and good job-specific skills,” said Schaefer. “If they’re not able to apply that learning and use the enthusiasm and passion they have in their 20s, what happens to their motivation? What happens to their vision of the future? What’s going to happen to our country if we don’t have a generation of young people in the workforce?”
Underemployment can be just as harmful. Many young adults are resorting to the kind of service-sector jobs they depended on to get through school because they lack other options. Schaefer’s frustration, after years of helping young, discouraged Canadians is palpable. “This has to be on the public’s agenda. We have to pay close attention to this issue.”
You can help. Visit the Youth Employment Services website for information on mentoring, sponsorships and donations.