Challenges mount for young people

People in Northern Ontario are too familiar with some of the biggest challenges faced by young people, especially when they relate to employment.  For many of our children this search will take them to urban centres.  In many instances they will have left for post-secondary education before seeking work.  This pattern is in no way new, but there are new wrinkles that are making it harder for young people right across Canada that need to be addressed.

The path to a better job usually runs through post-secondary education.  Although there are no guarantees and always exceptions to the rule, university and college graduates tend to get the better jobs making education something of a calculated risk. With the ballooning of student debt and tuition fees expected to climb considerably in the next few years it seems like more of a gamble than it has historically been. 

 According to a report from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives tuition fees are projected to increase by 13% over the next 4 years after increasing at three times the rate of inflation for the past two decades.  The fact that student debt will increase is problem enough, but the government’s ineffective response to that and persistent youth unemployment that makes debt so difficult to overcome is worrisome.

What is needed is a plan for action from the federal government and their provincial partners that will address the problems of rising tuition and runaway student debt.  Despite repeated calls from New Democrats, the Minister for Economic and Social Development has been silent on the issue and without federal leadership the provinces are stuck in one gear – raising tuition rates.  

It would seem that it is something that no one wants to admit.  If post-secondary  education becomes so exclusive that only better-off Canadians can afford it we are setting our economy up for a shock and ensuring that class divisions become all the more difficult to break down.  In addition to that it will only make youth unemployment problems worse.

Currently youth unemployment figures are running double the national average.  Here in Ontario, only one in two young people have a paying job.  This is becoming a persistent problem that requires creative thinking as well as specific policies and programs.

New Democrats are proposing a new tax incentive to benefit young people and the businesses that hire them.   It is designed to encourage businesses to create new jobs for youth while helping them with the cost of training.  Under the proposal, businesses would be eligible for up to $1,000 just for hiring a young employee and also for matching funds to train the employee.  The tax credit would also be targeted to address regional employment inequality by doubling it in parts of the country where youth unemployment is highest.  In an every-penny-counts world, measures like this might make the difference for young people who are held back most by opportunity.

It is clear that there is work to do to help our young people who are facing tough challenges.   We need to ensure our colleges and universities remain accessible to all Canadians, regardless of their economic circumstances and that there are jobs for young graduates to go into.  We cannot put them behind the eight ball now and then ask them to take care of the country later on.