The rate of Ontario youth unemployment rivals those of the European Union and the U.S. Rust Belt states. So says the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternativesin its recent report, “The Young and the Jobless”. Joblessness among people aged 15 to 24 in Ontario is 16.9 per cent, which is higher than that in Indiana, Minnesota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. The actual employment rateis significantly worse. It ranges from 50 to 52 per cent in the province, meaning half of all youths don’t have jobs.
The gap between youth and adult employment in Toronto is the largest in the province at 21.8 per cent. The report states that “young workers are subject to the negative consequences of the same macroeconomic forces that are aﬀecting the rest of the population. However, young workers are the labour market’s canary in the coalmine. When there are hiring freezes, they remain out of work. When there are layoﬀs, it is newer, younger workers who often feel the brunt of the job losses.”
Many believe that education is the key to success. Not quite so, at least not in our times. As the Toronto Star reports, a typical student makes about $26,000 a year, between four part-time jobs. Most of the earnings go towards tuition. And according to the Canadian Federation of Students, average student debt after graduating with a four year degree is $37,000. Yet, having a degree does not always increase your chance of getting a job. The 17.1 per cent unemployment rate among adults with advanced (above bachelors) degrees is higher than young workers who have completed high school (16.0 %).
Youth make up 17 % of the world’s population. According to the International Labour Organization, there are 73 million young unemployed people in the world, an increase of 3.5 million since 2007. At the same time, informal employment among young people remains pervasive and transitions to decent work are slow and difficult. For example, informal employment accounts for half of the jobs of young workers in the Russian Federation.
Against this backdrop, socialists argue:
The youth are the backbone of production. But young workers need to unite to become the brain of production as well. More jobs, higher wages, shorter working hours, and better working conditions are achievable only through organized struggle.
Education is a right not a privilege. Post-secondary education should be free. Drop fees and cancel student debt, now! To achieve these goals, get involved in the student unions, and challenge students’ union officials to lead the struggle. Follow the example of the Quebec students’ strike in 2012!
Bridge the gap between youth and the rest of the working class. Replace the labour leaders who accept divisive conditions, such as the two-tier wage system (lower starting pay) that increases the exploitation of youth.
Youth unemployment, like mass unemployment among adults, can be overcome if new jobs are created, such as by launching massive public works to provide housing and to modernize infrastructure. Expropriating the banks and giant corporations, and placing them under workers’ control, is necessary to finance and implement massive public investment projects.
Today’s rotting capitalism resembles a coal mine before a methane gas explosion. Youths should not be the canaries in that mine. They should organize, join workers’ struggles, and smash the cage in which they are trapped.