By AJAMU NANGWAYA
Statistics Canada recently revealed the jobless rates in July 2009 for young job seekers between the ages of 15 and 24 at 20.9 per cent and 13.4 per cent for students and non-students, respectively. The national unemployment rate stood at 8.6 per cent and 10 per cent for the City of Toronto, also during that month.
The nightmarish unemployment rates for young job seekers would be even more disturbing, if we adjust the statistics and examine by race or ethnicity. The unemployment rates for Aboriginal and racialized youth job seekers are usually much higher than that of their White counterparts, even during good economic periods.
Michael Ornstein’s analysis of the 1996 census data for youth unemployment rates in Toronto revealed that the general figure for joblessness stood at 19.6 per cent. But the rate for Black and African youth between the ages of 15 and 24 years was 38 per cent. According to Ryerson University professor Grace-Edward Galabuzi, in 2001, the national unemployment rate for African Canadian youth was 21 per cent, while the figure for all racialized youth was 16.1 per cent. The 2001 general jobless rate for all youth was 13.3%.
One can only imagine the unemployment experience for African Canadian and other racialized youth in this economic crisis that is arguably the worst since the Great Depression. However, the thing that is disturbing about the severe unemployment situation for both racialized and Aboriginal youth and their White counterparts is that the cost of postsecondary education and the attendant indebtedness make the access to university and college education almost unreachable.
The level of student loan owed to the federal government now stands at over $13 billion and grows at an alarming rate of $1.2 million per day, according to the Canadian Federation of Students. Young people from working class households are more likely to forgo the pursuit of postsecondary education than their middle and upper class cohorts out the fear of going into debt. Therefore, many young job seekers may not choose postsecondary education as a way to deal with joblessness.
What is most troubling about the above student indebtedness figures is that they do not account for the estimated $5 billion that is owed to provincial student loan programs, private financial institutions and family members. A recent StatsCan report on 2005 graduating students revealed that those who left school with a bachelor, masters or doctoral degree had an average debt load of over $20,000 with just about 25 per cent of the surveyed graduates having completely paid off their loans two years later.
With about 70 per cent of jobs requiring postsecondary education, the government, colleges and universities should see the economic necessity of eliminating tuition and others fees. These fees represent barriers to providing a first-rate, accessible and affordable education that is critical to social and economic development. Tuition fees now make up over 41 per cent of the operating budget on university campuses in Ontario compared to 20 per cent in the 1990s.
If countries ranging from Cuba, Trinidad, Barbados, France, Denmark, Libya, Poland to Ireland can afford public postsecondary educational sectors that are tuition-free why is it that Canada cannot do the same?
If Canadian students were treated like debt-ridden Third World countries they would certainly meet the relevant criteria for loan forgiveness.