Give a student a hand

  • April 30, 2009
{mosimage}These are difficult days for anyone looking for a job but as universities empty for summer, soon to be followed by high schools, it is appropriate to consider the plight of our youngest workers.

According to the latest figures from Statistics Canada, a staggering 357,000 jobs have been lost in this country since the noose of global recession was jerked around Canada’s economy last October. That is the largest five-month drop since the recession of 1982 and pushed Canada’s unemployment rate to a seven-year high of eight per cent.

All sectors of the economy are choking, but no single group of workers has been hit harder than our youth. Of the 357,000 lost jobs, 122,000 of them (34 per cent) belonged to workers in the 15-24 age group, lifting the youth unemployment rate to 14.8 per cent, an 11-year high. Ontario youth forfeited 26,000 of those lost jobs. The youth unemployment rate in Ontario is now at a knee-buckling 17 per cent, more than double the national overall jobless average. And there is no relief in sight.

Today’s youth may be unable to quote the statistics but they can articulate for you deepening frustration, anxiety and pessimism. Youth job hunters have been papering potential employers with resumes. But never in their working lives has there been a summer when jobs were so scarce.

And this comes at a time when, perhaps, youth need for employment has never been greater. The summer earning period is essential for students. Tuition costs continue to rise as universities wrestle with government cutbacks. Equally worrisome for students is the burden of student loans. According to the Canadian Federation of Students, young Canadians hold more than $13 billion of debt from student loans. The average is $24,000 per debt holder. Without summer work, students will be forced to finance an even larger portion of their education — or leave school to enter a desolate job market.

So, what can be done? Governments have been chipping in. The recent Ontario budget held a promise to create 100,000 summer jobs over two years. The federal government found an additional $20 million over two years to supplement existing student programs. Newfoundland and Labrador deserve praise for taking the novel step of eliminating provincial interest on student loans.

Still, thousands of university and high school students face a bleak summer. The onus is on all of us to pick up the slack.

For business owners, consider hiring a student. And if you have no openings, reply to each student inquiry anyway. It’s depressing to be out of work, but demoralizing to be ignored.

For homeowners, think of students when searching for services such as lawnmowing, painting and simple handyman chores. Take advantage of the federal government’s renovation tax rebate program by initiating home improvements with student workers. And all of us should offer prayers and encouragement. A young worker’s first need is a job but a kind word helps too.

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