On Campus

Unemployed? You aren't alone

Student unemployment is at a record high

Anecdotally I knew this already and I think a lot of us did, but if there was any remaining doubt, the statistics are in: Unemployment among students is at an all-time high. The Toronto Star reported on the story just today:

For young job seekers, this summer has been a cruel one. For students, it’s been bad enough to break records. The unemployment rate for students rose sharply to 20.9 per cent in July, Statistics Canada said yesterday in its latest report. That’s up from 13.8 per cent from July 2008 – and the highest level since the government started tracking it in 1977.

If you were in the market for a summer job I think you’re well within your rights to give up at this stage. If you were waiting for permission from someone to do that you can cite mine. Your parents and family may have trouble understanding the situation but at least now you can refer them to some hard data that reflects the true nature of things out there. It’s bad.

Of course it’s all about the downward pressure. As more qualified people lose their jobs or can’t find stable employment they compete for lower level positions. I have friends with one and two degrees who are unemployed and I know people in law school who had a lot of trouble finding summer employment. With those people still on the market it can’t be easy for university and college students to pick up much of anything. And I don’t even want to think about high school students. The way things are out there you might as well set up a lemonade stand.

Now I really hate to start any sentence with “when I was a kid” but here goes. When I was a kid I had my first real job at 14 years old. I worked at a Harvey’s. In hindsight I’m sure I was a really bad employee but hopefully I was at least worth the minimum wage they were paying me. That used to be the economic strategy around teenage workers as I recall it. You pay them crap and accept that they’ll screw around at least some of the time and a fair percentage won’t work out at all. But provided you’ve got the kids doing lower-level jobs it works out in the long run.

These days those jobs are going more and more to adults who are simply on the lowest rungs of the economic ladder. Of course that’s bad for students who are looking for a chance to earn some money (as The Star’s article indicates) but it’s also a bad sign for the workforce generally. Instead of short-term jobs for people who presumably move onto other things, these low-level service jobs are becoming a permanent economic ghetto for immigrants and those with few credentials or other skills. And that’s a bloody shame. Though I guess that’s another topic.

For those who are in school and frustrated with unemployment I’ve got a bit of advice. First, don’t sweat it. It isn’t just you and it’s not your fault. You may want to engage in a little self-reflection and see if there’s anything you could be doing differently but if you’re satisfied with the way you present yourself and go about your job hunt there’s no need to worry this will be a long-term problem. Second, with only a month or so to go before school resumes, try to develop some positive routines a little in advance if you can. Because let’s face it, you tend to fall into some bad habits when you’re not working or in school.

If you’ve got a little too used to staying out all night and sleeping until noon you might want to snap that streak before the first week of classes. Get up at reasonable time in the morning – even if it’s only to watch cartoon for a bit. Read a few good books simply for pleasure. Try reading the paper every day. Establish a decent exercise schedule if you don’t have one already or make some changes to your diet if some are overdue. Do something you’ve been meaning to do that is definitely in your power – unlike finding a job which is out of your hands in many ways. Don’t set absolute or difficult goals for yourself such as losing X number of pounds. Just do something concrete and manageable. You want to head back to school in September on a high note, not all dejected from four months of fruitless job searching.

And yeah, don’t take it personally. It’s tough all around out there.

Questions are welcome at jeff.rybak@utoronto.ca. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.