Statement on Youth Unemployment

April 6, 1997


Statement on Youth Unemployment

April 4-6, 1997

Invoking the deficit demon governments across this nation have argued we "cannot burden our children with today's debts:

Yet that's exactly what successive Conservative and Liberal governments have done over the last two decades. They've set the stage so the majority of youth will inherit a level of poverty far beyond anything we know today.

In March, Statistics Canada confirmed what many parents already know too well. Their children cannot find work. The official unemployment rate among 15 to 24 year olds is 17 per cent. In fact one in five in this age bracket has no work experience at all. The unofficial rate which includes those who have given up looking stands at a shocking 28 per cent. In some regions it is as high as 40 per cent.

One newspaper glibly suggests that the youth unemployment problem will evaporate as baby boomers enter retirement. Yet many workers today are postponing retirement precisely because they have to support children who cannot make it on their own. And those over 40 who are subjected to layoffs in this jobless "recovery' find themselves competing with their children for scarce jobs.

A Statistics Canada study tracking the impact of cuts to unemployment insurance benefits, pensions and welfare payments projects poverty rates rising to nearly 40 per cent of the population in the next century.

It is the youth of today who will inherit life-long poverty, well into the future. The government's lack of job creation has meant the debt has been transferred to our children. It is they who will carry the burden.

Consider the cuts to UI. Youth in particular are being hard hit by the changes in eligibility rules making it more difficult to qualify for benefits if you're in a part-time job, the fastest growing sector of the job market.

In 1976, the part-time employment rate for youth not attending school was 6 per cent. By 1996, it was 20 per cent.

The new UI system requires hours, not weeks of work, and many part-times will not have enough hours to qualify. Even those who qualify will find themselves on frequent layoffs as a result of the rise in short-term, temporary positions. UI now penalizes workers who are repeat users. Youth will face a downward spiral into poverty as they get older.

Although youth without post secondary education fare the worst, fewer and fewer can meet the financial demands of higher learning. In 1996, the majority of students could only find part-time summer employment.

Tuition fees have risen dramatically over the last two decades. In turn, more students need loans for ever-increasing amounts. It is the banks that hold these student loans and which profit from the interest students pay on this lifelong debt.

Youth face a future of low-wage work, unsafe working conditions, and few if any benefits like health care and pensions, especially in non-union jobs.

The growing part-time, temporary job market will mean lower CPP/QPP benefits and fewer company pensions. Our children will have no escape from poverty in old age.

When hope is lost and despair sets in among those who should be in the prime years of their life, we all pay a price. Searching for someone to blame for their lost future and a way to vent their anger, youth become vulnerable to the recruiting strategies of hate organizations which promote racism and right-wing politics.

The burden of deficit reduction is being shouldered by youth and others least able to afford it. The average after-tax income of a middle and lower middle income family (between $26,000 and $44,000 today) is roughly $1,400 less than it was 10 years ago.

Still, a parade of wealthy CEOs and corporations preach belt-tightening. Frank Stronach, of Magna International, claims that by averaging his worklife earnings - - "I probably haven't made much more than the minimum wage." Had Stronach worked every hour of every day for the last 40 years, his 1995 earnings alone, $43 million, would amount to about $123.20 an hour.

Magna and other corporations, financial institutions and the banks are raking in record profits as more and more workers and their families are pushed into a downward spiral of lower living standards.

What's left? It must be an all out fight for the future of our children.

Offering tax concessions and other subsidies to corporations to expand their temporary workforce simply won't do it. We need a national project to create many more full-time jobs, ones that provide decent earnings and steady work.

In doing this, we combat poverty and bring about other needed improvements in our general well-being. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated recently that a lowering of the unemployment level to six per cent would also lower the homicide rate by 5.7 per cent, the suicide rate by 2.1 per cent, the number of prisoners by 18 per cent, and the number of arrests by 12 per cent. Other studies suggest that hospital admissions go down with lower unemployment.

Our union has demonstrated in collective bargaining that corporations can be forced to create jobs and still make profits. By sharing the available work through increased vacation and other forms of shorter working time, the CAW has bargained to create over 6,100 full-time, decent paying jobs during the last six years. It has been more than 50 years since a legislated reduction in the mandatory hours of work has been made. The massive introduction of new technologies should benefit all society through shorter working time and more jobs.

It will take a determined political will to achieve this on a national level.

When powerful business leaders and the political elite advocate policies of destruction we need to look elsewhere for the vision that will encourage youth to fight for their future. Social unionism means exposing right-wing Liberal and Conservative government policies that jeopardize our children, and it means actively mobilizing the opposition.