Who had it easy?: the job market greeting grads


There’s been plenty of heated response to Emma Teitel’s “Boomers, You Folks Had it Easy,” column. It left me curious about what I suppose might be the most telling single indicator of the labour force’s ability to absorb new entrants—the unemployment rate for 15- to 24-year-olds. So I asked Statistics Canada for that data, going back through the decades. And here you go: six statistical snapshots of how the job market looked just after the spring graduation ceremonies:

Seasonally adjusted unemployment rates for youth (15 to 24 years) Canada

June 1962: 9.1 per cent

June 1972: 11.1 per cent

June 1982: 18.3 per cent

June 1992: 17.9 per cent

June 2002: 14 per cent

May 2012: 14.3 per cent

(Source: Statistics Canada, Labour Force Survey. Sticklers might want to note that the survey for 1962 and 1972 was slightly different than for subsequent years.)


Who had it easy?: the job market greeting grads

  1. Good for you, John. About time we had a little reality. I am close to your age (49 years old). I was in that group of 1982 grads. It was dismal to say the least. I took two jobs to pay the rent (neither in my field of study). We had borrowed living/kitchen furniture and slept on a foamie (my sister and I) in our one bedroom apartment. When we got laid off of our jobs, we moved in with someone else so our UI would stretch further. We had it easy? Not really.

    • Some always do, some always don’t. One’s experience can colour a time period but it’s rarely indicative overall.

      • Excuse me? As the statistics show it wasn’t just MY experience. 1982 was a bust year for alot of young graduates and families. Interest rates were at 18%. Homes were being foreclosed on left, right and centre. How are today’s statistics of unemployment “indicative” of the overall experience but 1982’s statistics not indicative?

  2. That’s interesting, John. But it doesn’t actually tell the story. Can you go back to StatsCan and ask for seasonally adjusted employment rates for University Graduates (not just youth 15-24)?

  3. The intergenerational pissing match, while clearly a great driver of web traffic and generator of self-righteous commentary, certainly does not solve anything. Every “generation” comes with its own challenges and the continued and sustained attempts many make in order to both undermine other generations and to exonerate their own does nothing to solve the issues that they face.

    I know that, as someone in his 30s, the usual accusations of laziness and entitlement don’t particularly apply. I’ve also found it quite problematic to get into a semi-comfortable middle-class career. I’m fortunate now to be working in a student position with a government department, but it took several years “in the woods” and a return to school to get that opportunity.

    While I was “doing what I have to do” and “walking up hill both ways in my bare feet eating nothing but newspapers for my one meal of the day” to get the bills paid, my resume filled with experience that was not going to get my any sort of work that can be characterized as an entry to middle-income living, let alone fulfill even a fraction of what I was looking to do with myself (no, not $90,000/yr haha, my desires were to start somewhere above $35,000/yr, hardly rampant greed). Am I necessarily entitled to it? Not particularly, but in the grand scheme of things, we’re not really entitled to anything.

    Why all this? Well, my experiences are different from someone who was facing the same prospects in 1982. The operation of the job market was quite different, the relative value of credentialed education was different, and the recovery of the market was different than this one will be. None of this takes away from those challenges either.

    For what it’s worth, it it weren’t for the cruel and relentless passage of time, we’d have a bunch of folks who supported families through the Depression and Dustbowl on here telling us all to shut the hell up. It’s okay though, because they had no idea just how difficult nineteenth century pre-settlement winters were either.

    • Well said.

    • According to the logic of this argument, no one has the right to be critical of our flailing economy, no matter how bad it gets, because we faced even worse times in the past. Obviously that is nonsense.

      The purpose of economics is to allocate resources in the most efficient way possible to maximize economic growth and living standards. Therefore when looking to the past we should not be looking for excuses, but for policies that worked (to build upon) and disastrous history to avoid repeating.

      It should be noted that all the problems the global economy is facing now are due to 30 years of failed free-market reforms which culminated in a (second) global economic meltdown (in 2008.) Presently, we appear to be repeating the mistakes of the 1930s that prolonged the Great Depression which was caused by the first free-market global economic meltdown of 1929.

      In the centrist post-war era, we created modern living standards and the modern middle-class, so not all economic history is dismal.

    • I can’t speak for the others who commented on Teitel’s article, CR, but my point was that, in a larger picture sense, the current crop of graduates is no worse off than many that preceded them and perhaps better off than some – and so her article was to a large extent whiny crap.

      That’s not to say that I don’t have sympathy for the new grads looking for work; having been there myself, the opposite is in fact true. But she paints a false picture of those who went before.

  4. Did the 2012 numbers require long form census data? If so it’s unreliable and may have skewed towards the gainfully employed.

  5. So what I am seeing is that both the boomers and Gen-Y should just shut it, since my generation (X) had it worse than both!

    • 1982 would be late Boomer (i.e. me). And these are national numbers; it was much worse in some regions (like NL, where I lived).

      But I think trying to start intergenerational warfare, as Teitel seems to be attempting, does no one any good. Current youth have it harder than their elders, on average, and the focus should not be whose generation was worse off, but trying to figure out ways to better the economy in general and in particular to stimulate youth employment.

      Conversely, the youth need to be willing to search far afield to find work; with today’s technology, doing so i much easier than in the past (though it potentially means more applicants per job as a result).

      • The generational time frame is debatable, coming down to which arbitrary scale you use, but yeah, I did co-opt the 1982 cohort in the name of snark.

        I’m not sure I’d agree that Teitel is trying to spark the inter-generational war, mainly because it was started a while ago. To me it seems she is trying to defend her generation… in the past year alone I have seen several pieces written by boomer pundits that bemoan Gen Y as being lazy, shiftless, lacking attention spans, shallow, and uncaring. These pieces tend to be just a few pages or clicks away from stories about students protesting, creating some new social media business that Boomers don’t understand (yet quickly co-opt as something of their own), or how some young 20-something activist is finding success in their attempt to make the world a better place.

        The thing is, the very same arguments were made 15-20 years ago against my generation. They were made 15-20 years before that about your generation. They will be made 15-20 years from now about the next generation, and so on. But picking what generation had it worse is a mug’s game. Each generation has a different set of issues they must deal with that the previous and next simply cannot comprehend. Add to that the points you made regarding geography and relative economic factors, and soon it’s comparing apples to shoelaces.

        All that said, I do feel for the kids coming out of university today. They have to compete with my generation for the same entry-level jobs. While there was hope that as the Boomers retired there would be a glut of jobs available, it seems the jobs are being retired along with those who have them. Unfortunately for GenY, GenX has a bit more experience (and fewer facial tattoos.) Combine that with the economic policies of our alleged government, and it seems the plan is to ship all the snot-nosed brats to the oil mines.

        • Well put! Hadn’t seen those pieces attacking Gen Y, but I can see how they would get under a person’s skin.

          Subject: [macleansca] Re: Who had it easy?: the job market greeting grads

  6. A Boomer graduating in 1962? technically, not possible. And there is a world of difference between a Boomer born in 1947-55 versus a Boomer born 1960-64. So Emma is going to find any number of “Boomers” picking nits with her. The early boomers had a crest of growth on which to surf, not least of which is a home as much as 200-300 times the value at which it was purchased, no debt, mutual funds that soared and income that grew at exponential rates. On this latter point, they will undoubtedly cry that prices went up, too, but I would reply: not their mortgage.

    • “…not their mortgage.” No kidding!

      War babies and early boomers with their own homes in particular benefited greatly from the rapid inflation of the late 60s to early 80s (or whenever it was it all came to a grinding halt).Many had 25-year mortgages with set interest rates; if they didn’t move, they found their housing costs, as a percentage of their expenditures, rapidly dwindling – giving them all kinds of extra cash. Rapid inflation may be bad in many respects, but it allowed a chunk of the populace who bought housing at the right time to live very comfortable lives.

  7. Nice to have some actual figures.

    Another factor to take into consideration are results from several surveys done not long ago, where 15 – 24 year olds were asked their expectations by the time they were 30. The majority felt they would be making over $100,000/year, own a home, etc., etc.. The young people I know that look to reach those goals are going into specific areas that pay well and are in demand.

    • My ex teaches high school. Future salary expectations there are almost universally unrealistically high – i.e. most, regardless of career path, have expectations along the lines of “making over $100,000/year, own a home, etc.”

  8. The baby boomers certainly had much better employment opportunities than today’s youth. During the post-war era, a factory worker could make it to the middle class, support a family and house on a single income and have a life-long job with good benefits and a company pension.

    Over the past 25 years, there has been continuous corporate downsizing and full-time jobs have been turned into part-time ones to cheat workers out of pay and benefits. Also during this time government debt has skyrocketed. So not only are the young facing dismal job prospects and oppressive student loans, they also have less means to service high levels of government debt.

    In a functioning economy, living standards rise as the economy grows. But over the last 25 years we had an economic tide that only raised the yachts. That is the real problem.

  9. The well must be getting dry if it has become more critical to encourage a generational pissing match as opposed to say… finding theoretical avenues for legitimate growth.

    University doesn’t guarantee anything. There is a growing number that will not find a career in their chosen study. Trades are hot today but do prospective youth have the skills and the will to prosper until they can retire in these fields? High school is basically worthless for getting a job. Mcdonalds, Tim’s and the like are “bad” jobs that offer little beyond adding to community waistlines.

    With increasing automation, a growing reliance on cybernetic networks and the urge to cut costs; the “NEXT” generation will be seeing a much different job market than that which exists today.

  10. One thing’s for sure, we just have to have continued mass immigration, don’t we? Wouldn’t want recent graduates to have a fair shot at the entry level jobs they need to start their careers; it’s more important to be politically correct and flood the country with new immigrants who will compete with Canadian grads for scarce jobs, when they should be at home building up their own countries.

    • Don’t many immigrants take up the service jobs Canadians won’t do? Isn’t this whole battle about not having to take jobs “beneath” current garaduates’ dignity?

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