At this time of year, most college and university students have recently finished exams and some are looking forward to their graduation ceremonies in the fall. However, they don’t seem to have much to look forward to after their commencement speeches. Youth employment in Canada is as precarious as ever. Students entering college and university face the prospect of paying skyrocketing tuition fees and many will have to work precarious jobs to pay their loans back once they have graduated.
Youth poverty and unemployment are nothing new but have recently increased with the slowdown of the Canadian economy in the last few years. The rise in youth unemployment will only make it harder for young people to pay back their student debt. Unemployment is a permanent feature of the capitalist system which is necessary for the profit of the bosses because it puts a downward pressure on wages and forces people to accept precarious, part-time work with no benefits. Therefore, for a lasting solution to the problem of unemployment, we will need to look beyond this system.
Tuition for college and university has tripled in Ontario since 1993 even though inflation has only increased 48%, making Ontario the most expensive province for post-secondary education (Toronto Star, Sept. 08, 2015). The average tuition fee in Ontario is $8,699 compared to the Canadian average of $6,971. A poll released by CIBC found that 51% of university students receive financial assistance from their parents. Food Banks are opening up at campuses across the country to help students cope with the rise of living expenses. Along with the sluggish recovery from the 2008 financial crisis, the youth unemployment rate has hovered around 13%, approximately double the national average. However, this number does not take into account young people who are underemployed, which would make up another 27% who are working precarious and part-time jobs just to get by while looking for a career.
Could it be argued that youth unemployment is simply a natural part of young people entering the job market for the first time? This argument overlooks the fact that the youth unemployment rate has been lower in the past, such as in 1989 when it was 10%, much closer to the national average. Furthermore, according to the Ontario council of Universities, the employment rate for students six months after graduation has fallen to 87.6% in 2012 from 94.1% in 2006 (The Globe and Mail, Nov. 15, 2015). The choices we make as individuals are important but are constrained by the social, political and economic reality. As previously mentioned, capitalism naturally requires what Karl Marx called the “reserve army of labour” to put a downward pressure on wages in order to keep profits high for the bosses. Unemployment increases during periods of economic crisis when companies lay off workers to compensate for the lack of demand in the market. Young workers are especially vulnerable since they have had less time to gain experience and lack seniority.
Many HR departments are now overburdened with large numbers of applications to fewer jobs. Most HR departments now use software to scan applications for keywords in resumes and cover letters; applications without sufficient keywords are automatically discarded. Only after this process are the remaining applications looked at by a human HR personnel, but because of the large volume of applications much is left to the discretion of the HR staff. This is not due to any malicious intent by HR departments but due to the fact that Canada has been plagued with pervasive unemployment since the 2008 crash, especially among young people. The enormous student debt this generation faces, only furthers the scramble for better jobs. At the same time, the new Liberal finance minister Bill Morneau isn’t worried about youth unemployment since according to him, “most of the really smart people find jobs”. Such an inflammatory statement ignores the reality of life under capitalism, where those who find well-paying jobs that actually meet their qualifications and needs are a shrinking category and increasing numbers of “really smart people” with training or degrees are forced to accept work that they are overqualified for.
This situation is not likely to change unless new markets are found to absorb the excess amount of youth labour or governments push to lower tuition fees and invest in youth employment. However, neither of these are feasible in the context of a global decline of capitalism, with saturated markets and governments the world over being burdened with massive state debt. This is the context for the Ontario Liberal government’s move to make post-secondary education “free”. However, as our previous analysis has shown, the Ontario Liberal government will be investing the exact same amount of money into the Ontario Student Grants as the previous provincial budget plan (i.e. there will be no increase in funding!)
The Liberal party at the federal and provincial levels have a habit of promising a great deal of public investment but after a few years in office end up implementing steep austerity cuts. The Trudeau government’s promise to help young people is part of his party’s seemingly aggressive public spending plan which includes investment in infrastructure, employment insurance, funding for First Nations communities, etc. Indeed, the party is planning to run 5 years of deficit spending at a total sum of $113 billion. The aforementioned finance minister Bill Morneau is not entirely sure if such steep spending will help grow the economy. So there is a great deal of uncertainty in whether the Liberals will continue this ambitious deficit spending project and whether it would help youth in the long run, especially since government debt today stands at 86% of GDP and will eventually result in deep austerity and attacks on the youth and workers for the next three years, keeping in line with the Wynne government’s objective of balancing the budget. The new federal Liberal government under Justin Trudeau is also intervening in this issue by promising to invest $300 million more into the Youth Employment Strategy program which would apparently create 40,000 new jobs and 5000 green jobs each year for the next three years. The Youth Employment Strategy is a collection of government agencies that provide career counselling for youth and offers incentives for companies to hire them. The questions is whether the federal Liberal government will keep this promise and if they do, then at what cost?
As Marxists, we explain that the problems facing youth today are rooted in the capitalist system itself. This is more true today than it has ever been as the system is stagnating and declining everywhere. A system that puts profit above human need cannot be used to solve youth poverty and poverty in general. That doesn’t mean that we do not fight for things like free education in the here and now. It is through such struggles that workers and youth learn their strength and collective interests as a class. However, all reforms under capitalism are temporary and can be reversed in times of crisis. This is why we have to connect the struggle for free post-secondary education and guaranteed employment for all with the struggle for socialism. The only permanent solution is to put the productive resources of society under social ownership and control. An economy that is democratically and rationally planned can put the great wealth that exists in Canada to the benefit of the majority of workers and youth. Everyone who wants to develop themselves should have access to postsecondary education and training followed by the guarantee of quality employment and a good standard of living. If you want to fight for a society that guarantees education and employment for all or are just interested in learning more about socialism, email us at email@example.com and get active in the fight against capitalism!