November 29, 2012

Hello Young Graduate. How's the life hunt going?

Gen Y Faces Big Risks.  I came across this article Tuesday during my habitual early morning peruse of the twitter feed.  Reading it resulted in one of those "a ha moments" - you know what I mean, when something just finally clicks!  Which is why I thought it important to share.

Members of Generation Y are more educated
and prepared for meaningful work in
our economy, however, they face decreasing
likelihood of getting a good job in their field
with ever increasing amounts of student debt as
governments continue to transfer  what was
traditionally collective risk to individuals.
In this article, David MacDonald, the senior economist for the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (one of my favourite Think Tanks) sets out a rationale for why Generation Y faces the possibility of a more bleak future than Baby Boomers did when they were starting out.  And this despite the fact that the life decisions we are required to make today are actually quite similar.

And the reason is..................(drum roll please)...........................................


MacDonald suggests that our governments, Federal, Provincial and, to some extent, Regional, have been transferring collective risk to the individual for years.

I want to take a minute to look at one area where this is increasingly true: education.

Consider this.  More and more young people are living at home for longer periods of time.  We may move away to attend higher education, but then we move back.  Many have accused us of being irresponsible, of wanting too much too fast, of being unable to become independent.  MacDonald points out that part of the problem is simply that the economy has changed and young people today do not have the same supports that Boomers did when they were moving out.

For one thing, governments in many provinces have been reducing their investments in education for years.  This means that tuition is more expensive (the increase has been far more than inflation) and, as a result, so are our school debts.  For many, school debt could be as much as a down payment on a house, and don't forget that houses too are far more expensive than they used to be.

This would all be fine and dandy if achieving higher education was still a virtual guarantee that a graduate would find a good job.  Unfortunately, this is not the case anymore.  As graduation rates grow, competition for the good jobs - jobs that pay enough to invest in a house today and invest for tomorrow - is growing too.   At the same time, the availability of good jobs is shrinking.

But what does this mean?  It means that young people today don't have the same access to "the good life" that our parents and grandparents did.  There are more and more people qualified to do the jobs we want to do, and there are less and less of those jobs available.

Those jobs - jobs with a pension, jobs with benefits, jobs that held some of the risk of illness or retirement savings for us - are disappearing and being replaced by lower paying contract jobs with no benefits and no guarantee that there is a job waiting for you when your contract finishes.

When we see young people (and not so young people) still living at home, trying to make their payments and save enough to buy that house or that car I often hear people make the assumption that those young people do not know how to manage their finances or that their expectations are too high.  But I wonder if any of us stop to consider how much our economy has changed since those assumptions were formed.  Do we think about the job we were able to access when we finished school, the competition we faced to get it, or the amount of money our government invested into our education for us?

Now, I'm not saying people shouldn't go to school, and I'm not saying that people shouldn't make a lot of money when they are lucky enough to get a good job after graduation.  What I am saying is that we need to acknowledge the changes that have taken place in our economy and recognize that our governments have made huge changes to the investments they make into society.

And if you are one of the lucky ones to have been born during a time when our social safety net was strong or even growing, think about all of the ways in which our government provided support.  Subsidized tuition and employment insurance when your company closed or you could only find seasonal work are two great examples.

So the next time you see a young graduate who is still living in their parents home remember this:  jumping to the conclusion that one is irresponsible and is unable to make it in the real world is not the only option.

Instead ask them what it's like to be a young person trying to find a job today.  What is the job market like?  Are there good paying jobs in their field?  If they were able to get that job they applied for last week, would it be enough to start an independent life?

If the answer is no, then ask yourself what we as a society might be able to do about that.

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