Economic analysis

Were labour market conditions really better for the parents of today's twentysomethings?

In an article on youth unemployment, the Globe and Mail quotes Judith Maxwell as saying

“People over their forties in Canada have no idea what it’s like for a young person trying to find a pathway to adulthood right now.”

That seems unlikely. A 49-year-old who started looking for a job at 18 would have entered the labour force in 1981; a 40-year-old who entered the workforce at age 23 would have done so in 1995. What did the labour market for youth look like between 1981 and 1995? The answer is “not pretty”:

With the brief exception of the last two or three years of the 1980s, young people who joined the labour force between 1981 and 1995 faced conditions at least as difficult as the ones being faced by today’s youth. The boom years of the latter half of the 1990s arrived too late for people who are now in their forties.

This is not to say that youth unemployment is not a problem, that it doesn’t create personal hardship or that the concerns about the effect of the recession on human capital formation are not well-founded. It’s just not new: the parents of twentysomethings do know something about the difficulties in getting traction in a weak job market.

[Update: I just noticed that Judith Maxwell refers to those over their forties, not in their forties. But that doesn’t really change the bottom line: conditions today look roughly similar to those faced by people who entered the labour force when Statistics Canada started the Labour Force Survey in 1976.]