TORONTO, ON– Federal Finance Minister Bill Morneau had a worrisome message for members of the Canadian workforce this week: “job-churn” is the new “normal”, so get used to it.
Morneau delivered the message last weekend while speaking to an audience of Ontario Liberals, and expressed along with it were serious concerns about the preparedness of the country’s workforce.
“We … need to think about, ‘How do we train and retrain people as they move from job to job to job?’ Because it’s going to happen. We have to accept that,” Morneau said during a question-and-answer session.
Already his bleak economic forecast is being met with criticism across the country. Most evidently incensed are young Millennials, who fear the comments may indicate an unwillingness to act or resignation on the part of federal leadership.
Marlowe Tatiana Grande is a writer who also works part-time as an events coordinator. In her view, the comments are unacceptable.
“Morneau’s comments show a kind of complacency that I can’t really accept. I can only work short-term contracts if I’m healthy, and what if I fall ill? What if something happens to me where I am not able to work? The responsibility then falls to the citizen rather than the government who has the ability to put legislation in place to protect vulnerable parties.”
Meredith Blinder, a social worker at Baycrest hospital in Toronto, had similar concerns.
“It doesn’t show much sensitivity to the current Millennial situation. Can you imagine these comments being made to our parents? The double standard is appalling.”
Job-churn is a troubling prospect for all workers, but disproportionately it affects Millennials and newcomers to the job market—demographics already plagued by low incomes and high levels of debt. For them, the real question is: what do Morneau’s comments imply? Do they signal resignation on the part of the Trudeau government?
What is job churn?
The Canadian economy has changed markedly in the past few decades. In the past one often “landed” in a particular field or industry, and then remained there for much of their working life. Now, individuals are expected to have many different careers, and long-term job security is less common. Working numerous part-time jobs is one way of dealing with under-employment, but seldom is that very lucrative, and neither is it typically advantageous in the long-term.
Impacted most by these structural economic changes are young job seekers and those still as of yet unsettled in their careers. Many in this group are overwhelmed with debt, underemployed, and must grapple with the catch-22 of employers expecting a lot of experience on the one hand, but not wanting to afford people the opportunity to get it on the other. With unprecedented numbers of people now graduating from university and not enough skilled jobs to meet that demand, Millennials must adapt, hustle, and graciously accept whatever work they can get (lest they want a more eager person to jump in line ahead of them).
The day-to-day reality can be a stark one. Many have no choice but to shuffle back and forth between low-paying jobs and to intern and volunteer in their remaining spare time each week. The former jobs supply an income (albeit a meager one), and on the latter unpaid work is usually pinned the hope of one day having a stable job and income.
As Jeffrey Kline explains, the burden is paralyzing:
“The sort of job insecurity we face sets us back in terms of purchasing property, setting money aside for savings, paying off student loans and receiving health care benefits at work. It also sets back productivity in the workplace as people are constantly coming and going.”
The numbers, too, are shocking. According to Statistics Canada, the youth labour participation rate is only around 63%, whereas the prime age employee participation rate is 90 percent. Huge disparities are also evident in the distribution of part-time work. Last year one-third of young workers were working in seasonal, contract, or casual jobs; in 1997, that figure was more like one-quarter.
How does Ottawa plan to help?
How the government plans to address Millennial economic woes is still, for the most part, a mystery. The current federal budget includes a tax cut for the middle-class (those making between $45,282 and $90,563 will this year see their income taxes fall from 22 per cent to 20.5 per cent), but few Millennials fall into that category or stand to benefit from middle-class tax benefits.
In an email to the Sheridan news desk, one student wrote:
“Everyone acknowledges that the economy is changing, and that job security is being affected by that, but what’s the underlying message?” It almost seems like [Morneau] is throwing in the towel.”
So far, Morneau has offered few and unsatisfying answers. As the Canadian Press reported on Saturday, federal aims seem to loosely centre around the “things underneath” disappearing or precarious work.
Whatever its plans, the liberal government will need to be cautious and soon volunteer some clarification to avoid further backlash. Last week a number of protesters turned their backs on Prime Minister Trudeau at the Canadian Labour Congress’ National Workers Summit. Should leadership not make a point of appeasing Millennial concerns, it may well have a greater problem to deal with in the future.