Good afternoon, everyone.
As introduced, I'm Amy Huziak, and I'm the national representative of young workers for the Canadian Labour Congress. With me is my colleague, Angella MacEwen, who is a senior economist with the CLC. On behalf of the 3.3 million members of the Canadian Labour Congress, we thank you for the opportunity to present our views.
The CLC brings together workers from virtually all sectors of the Canadian economy, in all occupations, and in all parts of Canada. As a young worker myself, I'm one of more than 876,000 young union members in Canada today. I regularly hear from my peers, both unionized and non-unionized, about the many barriers we're facing in the current labour market. Recessions are always harder on young workers, but we are nearly five years past the end of the last recession and there's still no recovery in sight for young workers.
Comparing the unemployment rate of 15-to-24-year-old young workers to that of 25-to-54-year-old workers gives us some indication of how young workers are faring. In 2012, the unemployment rate for young workers was 2.4 times that of core age workers, its highest value since comparable data became available in 1976.
The unemployment rate for aboriginal young workers was 21.1% in 2010, which is the most recent data we could find. That is 6.5 percentage points higher than the non-aboriginal population. Racialized workers and newcomers also face greater barriers to labour force participation, but it's difficult to know exactly what is going on with this group, as data is scarce and unreliable.
Between October 2008 and January 2014, there was an increase of 100,000 unemployed young workers aged 15 to 29, so that there are now 540,000 unemployed young Canadians. Even more startling, though, is that over 350,000 young workers left the labour force over that period, for reasons such as returning to school or skills training, discouragement, or taking unpaid work to fill that gap. It has been estimated that there are between 150,000 and 300,000 unpaid interns each year in Canada, which is a labour market challenge that no previous generation of workers has had to face.
But unemployment isn't the only issue that needs to be addressed. One third of young workers are employed part time, and many are in low-wage, temporary, and otherwise insecure employment, with a large contingent located in the retail and service sector, which is notoriously insecure. Too many young workers are underemployed: either unable to secure enough hours of work or lost on the margins of the workforce. We calculate the underemployment rate for young workers aged 15 to 24 to be 27.7% for 2013. This is a significant number, meaning that more than a quarter of young workers are being affected by the situation right now, and it's a significantly higher number than just the straight unemployment rate shows.
This is a big problem for the upcoming generation of workers, as persistent or extended unemployment and underemployment leads to what we call “scarring”, which basically means that it's very difficult to recover the level of wages and labour market outcomes that we would have had otherwise. The IMF says that high levels of youth underemployment contribute to growing income inequality in developed nations such as Canada. They estimate that the wage penalty for unemployed young workers can be as high as 20% compared to peers who are lucky enough to find employment and can be felt for up to 20 years. Scarring effects also extend beyond wages into social exclusion and health outcomes.
In Canada, Professor Philip Oreopoulos from the University of Toronto has estimated that entry level wages are 10% to 15% lower for those who graduate during a recession. The longer the economic recovery, the longer it takes for these wages to catch up. TD Economics estimates this to cost at least 1.3% of the GDP for Canada.
The paid internships announced in the last federal budget will only reach a maximum of 2,500 individuals per year, less than 0.5% of unemployed young workers. This only addresses a fraction of the need and, more importantly, does not address the need for long-term permanent work for young people.
To top off the dismal labour market, our social safety net is failing young workers too. In 2013 only 18% of unemployed young men and 8% of unemployed young women were able to qualify for EI. High entrance requirements for new labour market entrants shut young workers out of employment insurance. Given that a large number of training supports are available only to EI-eligible workers, shutting young workers out of EI also cuts access to valuable training supports.
Recent cuts to LMA funding, which provides training assistance to workers not eligible for EI, further exacerbate this problem.
As we see it, the problem of youth unemployment needs to be addressed from three angles. First, we need an employment strategy that is linked with a training strategy to put young workers on a career path to good jobs, meaning that the work is decently paid, is permanent, and has such benefits as access to a pension.
Second, we need good labour market information to flow between the government, employers, and educational institutions to ensure that young people can make informed decisions about the fields in which they are educated and that institutions can properly advise students.
Finally, we need to strengthen social protections to ensure that young workers have equal access to EI and health care, as well as to a strong Canada pension plan and old age security system when they retire.
There are many phrases that we've been hearing about young workers lately: that young workers are being left behind, that this is the last generation. But the truth is that young workers have a lot to contribute in this economy, and we have to make sure they have the opportunities.