Amid all the hoopla that marked the close of the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, England, the Games of the 30th Olympiad, it may have gone unnoticed that Sunday, August 12, was also the 12th annual observance of the United Nations’ International Youth Day. It was really fitting then that the big event in London also fell on the same day, given the proportion of youth representation at the top-flight world athletic event. The UN identifies youth as people between the ages of 15 and 24.
While we recognize the contributions of youth and the efforts of others to include youth in making the world more whole, we need to also keep in mind that, at this time in history, people in this age group face a more daunting future than at any other time since the economic depression of the 1930s, or at least the depressed market of the 1990s.
Youth make up one-sixth of the world’s population but face a higher rate of unemployment than any other age group. Last in, first out is a standard. According to the International Labour Organization, 40 per cent – 75 million young people – are unemployed globally. This spring, Statistics Canada reported that 27,000 fewer youth had jobs compared to the same time last year. One City of Toronto report puts local youth unemployment at almost 20 per cent but unemployment among Black youth at 38 per cent.
Nancy Schaefer of Youth Employment Services stopped short of characterizing today’s youth as a jobless generation but did acknowledge that the situation is bad.
When we ask the question, what is wrong with youth in this community, one of the factors has to be the prospects for employment. There may be greater stressors than not being able to find a job, but being jobless is right up there, regardless of the family income level of a young person seeking employment.
A significant proportion of young people who do find work are entering in areas – at movie theatres, supermarkets and other entry-level service jobs in retail industries – that are platforms for a future holding continued low-level employment for years to come. Many of these are people with university degrees and college diplomas.
As an alternative, internships – really unpaid work experience – have become a way into the workforce.
Over the 17 days of the world event, the amazing performances of the more than 10,000 amateur athletes at the Olympics (the badminton controversy not withstanding) were reminders of the energy, commitment and creativity that reside among today’s youth.
What we face by not making room for those qualities will be a loss for the larger society. Montreal student protests based on rejecting an increase in tuition fees really speaks of a larger issue of fear and insecurity about their future, so much so that it has become an election issue in Quebec. This is no small matter.
This year’s UN theme for International Youth Day was “Building a Better World: Partnering with Youth”. In fact, the day of observance was created in consultation with youth. But while they worked with institutions to create this initiative, in their own best interest, young people will most likely have to look to themselves to carry it forward, and that is no easy task.
That means, for example, that youth here will have to fashion a new Canadian dream, because the traditional one of securing a well-paying job, owning a home and starting a family, is less accessible for almost half of them. More to the point, that traditional dream will not be realized in larger numbers by racialized youth in particular.
The good news is that human beings are, if nothing else, wired for survival. As such, the creativity that is alive and well among young people is already showing itself. Even so, government and the private sector cannot relinquish their responsibility. They must make space for co-op and professional job placements. There must also be programs that support youth entrepreneurship, both in developing entrepreneurial skills and in providing funding for business start-ups. If the structures in place will not provide enough jobs, then they must at least ensure the means to give youth a push start. They also have to make it a priority to let youth know these means are available. Better that than steady talk about building more prison facilities.
A note on the weather…
America is suffering from a drought and we’ve experienced unusual weather for the past few years. Now a high profile scientist who had previously rejected human contribution to climate change has reversed his view after reviewing the evidence. Where do we go from here?
By PAT WATSON