Thank you, Mr. Chair, and I thank the committee very much for inviting me to address you on this issue. I'm thrilled that this particular committee is looking at youth unemployment, as this has been a jobless recovery for the young and the situation has actually deteriorated over the last year.
Young Canadians are getting fewer of the jobs that are being created, and there are roughly 265,000 fewer young people with jobs than there were in 2008. This situation is exactly unchanged from the summer of 2009, the worst point in the downturn. More than two-thirds of the jobs that vanished were full-time positions. The youth cohort is the only group that has experienced continued job loss, even in the past year.
It's striking that there has been a kind of match between the number of people leaving the labour force, the number of jobs lost in this age category, and at least until the 2011-12 scholastic year, the increase in enrolment in post-secondary institutions, which include apprenticeships as well as universities and colleges.
But this does not let legislators off the hook. Young people are clearly doing everything they can to attain or upgrade their skills to make themselves more employable. But it hasn't been enough to prevent their unemployment or underemployment, and it is a costly gamble.
Just yesterday The Hill Times reported some Employment and Social Development Canada statistics showing that student debt has been rising since the recession. The group that is the most indebted upon graduation, those with more than $30,000 worth of debt, is the group that saw the biggest increase in indebtedness, 33%.
Not surprisingly, they are grabbing what employment they can. Many are underemployed, either in terms of hours or in the utilization of their skills.
The solutions for youth unemployment are often focused on education and training, as if the problem is the quality and the supply of labour. But the demand for labour is also changing for this group. It is a buyer's market. Employers have a much bigger pool of people to pick from for entry-level jobs than they had previously. Whether they're newcomers, older workers, or younger workers, all are competing for job openings in the context of sluggish growth that is getting slower.
Not surprisingly, we've heard more and more about unpaid internships, something we never heard about in previous recessions. But in truth we don't have any statistics to compare this recession with past recessions. We don't know whether this is a common feature or something quite unusual. But it makes intuitive sense that it's getting harder to get and keep a toehold in the job market. Young people are grabbing what they can to put relevant skills on their resumés, and some employers are actually exploiting that desperation.
Let's say that this particular meeting signals a genuine search for solutions to address these problems. We don't know how much of this situation can be dealt with by public policy, but let me give you seven stellar examples of what you can do.
First, don't make things worse. I've said this before to this group, but the use of the low-skill pilot project under the temporary foreign worker program has more than doubled, from 13,000 to more than 30,000 people, since 2007. They're in direct competition with young people. It's the same thing with the international youth work experience program, which brings people in to work from afar. They're up to 65,000 young people now.
Canadian youth need experience too, so why not make sure that every company that seeks a labour market opinion or is asking to employ an international youth exchange person lists that job at least for a few weeks on the national jobs board, which the Government of Canada runs?
Better information about where the jobs are, by industry, by level of experience, and by geography is critical for better skill-matching.
Second, boost labour mobility. Though Toronto is the biggest job market, with the most job opportunities, the fastest rate of growth of job openings is in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and the north. These are all very expensive places for young people to travel to, especially if they're debt-ridden. First and last month's rent, if they're going to go out there on spec, is hugely expensive for someone without a job.
Just last week the Bank of Canada governor, Stephen Poloz, delivered his analysis of slow growth and some of the solutions, one of which was more labour market flexibility. Why don't you invest in more mobility enhancement by offering up to $5,000 in a cost offset for those under age 30 who are willing to move, on spec, to find a job in hot labour markets?
Third, why not offer wage subsidies for the young so that you can spur private sector job creation, particularly in slow-growth markets? Many communities with slower growth are caught in a troubling spiral. They have fewer job opportunities, and this means that young people leave to go to where the job opportunities are—we're seeing this all around the world—and then they can't grow because the young people are leaving. Why not provide a $10 per hour wage subsidy for the first two months of such employment to employers who hire workers under the age of 30 in slow-growth or high-unemployment regions?
Fourth, expand the number of paid internships and summer hires with a 50¢ dollar for provinces and municipalities. The federal government could easily double, or even triple, the number of paid internships and summer hires in the public sector by matching funds with the provinces and municipalities, because as we know, there is no shortage of work to do in our communities and there are long waiting lists for summer opportunities for children.
Fifth, don't want to spend any money? How about cost-free interventions? The federal government has already allocated $4 billion in the building Canada fund as of the past budget. It could reserve one-fifth of all the jobs created by federally funded contracts for infrastructure for Canadian youth.
Sixth, you can set the example and you can set the tone. The federal government should lead by example and not hire any unpaid interns and it should amend the Canada Labour Code to specifically prohibit unpaid internships.
Seventh, track unpaid internships. We don't know what we don't know about unpaid internships. That's no way to do public policy. Provide additional funds to Statistics Canada to monitor unpaid internships on a monthly basis by adding questions to the Labour Force Survey.
I'm hopeful the Government of Canada will take steps to address youth unemployment in our country. If you did all the steps that I mentioned it would cost less than $200 million. You are committed as a government to spending billions of dollars on two new tax cuts that primarily benefit older and richer Canadians. Why not put a priority on the next generation? We need an action plan, a youth action plan, and if you won't come up with it, I'm sure the opposition parties will.