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The Recession Keeps Youth in School

by Roger Sauvé


Counsellors spend a lot of time working with youth aged 15-24. Youth are told to go to school and to stay in school. It usually pays off.

The recession has complicated the ability of youth to access this potential path. Some have lost  their own earning capacity and they can’t all depend on their parents to pay for their post-secondary education. The reality is that youth with parents with incomes in the bottom half of all households are now only two-thirds as likely to attend university as those with parents in the top 25%.

Youth 15-24 now represent only 15% of Canada’s total population. Based on this number, we might expect young people to share in the recessionary times in line with their share of the total population. However, in the recession, they suffered much, much, more. Read on.

Last year, Canada lost about 277,000 jobs across all age groups.

The number of jobs lost by those aged 15-24 was 177,000 or almost two-thirds of the total jobs decline. In percentage terms, the job decline among youth was almost ten times more severe than among the rest of the work force. Luckily, the jobs decline for youth was the first following eleven years of advances.

The latest Statistics Canada readings to May 2010 reveal that jobs for youth are down by another 20,000 from a year earlier and that the unemployment rate is stuck at the same dismal level (15%) as last year. Some pickup is anticipated during the summer months.

Convincing students to stay in school is easier during a recession … there are just fewer jobs to go to. In 2009, the full-time school enrolment rate rose to 58.3% (the highest ever back to 1976) and the share of youth employed full-time dipped to 53.1% (the lowest ever back to 1976). The inverse relationship of these two rates continued during the recession as the weak labour market encouraged students to stay in school.

In 2009, employment rates for all youth dipped to 55.3% (the lowest since 1999), declined for returning students working in the summer to 52.4% (the lowest since 1997) and fell for full-time students who were working during the school year to 37.1% (the lowest since 1999). Not good news, but those are the hard realities of a recession.

Education certainly continues to be something to strive for and the recession bears this out. During 2009, almost half of all the adults aged 25-54 who lost their jobs had not completed high school, even if they represented only 8% of the adult population. The good news: employment actually increased for those with a university degree.

As a sometime, part-time, college instructor I have always been impressed by young people. They ask the good questions that we should all be asking. They are now asking a lot of questions about current economic conditions. They need honest answers from their counsellors and advisors.

Roger Sauvé is President of People Patterns Consulting. He is an economist and demographer who specializes in the study of the labour market, household finances, societal trends and demographics. Each year for the last decade, he has prepared a Canada Job Trends Update on labour force activity for youth and everyone else.

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