New Brunswick's unemployment rate for its youngest workers is now the highest in Canada, but the underlying conditions could be even more troubling for the age group.

When Statistics Canada released its February labour force report earlier this month, it showed New Brunswick's unemployment rate for people between 15 and 24 years of age hit 17.1 per cent, well above the national average of 13.6 per cent.

The province's unemployment rate earned the dubious distinction of being the highest in Canada as it surpassed Prince Edward Island and Newfoundland and Labrador.

In the last year, New Brunswick has had the highest youth employment rate in Canada six times — June, July, September, October, December and February.

Joel Richardson

Joel Richardson, the vice-president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters in New Brunswick, said the province should set a goal of reducing the youth jobless rate, at least, to the national average. (CBC)

The economic trouble doesn't end there, however. Statistics Canada data shows that in February 36,900 young people were employed in the province, which is the lowest level in 40 years.

Since March 1976, the number of people in the age group working has only dipped below 40,000 eight times. But four of those times have occurred since September 2015.

Joel Richardson, the vice-president of the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters division in New Brunswick, said the economic trends for young workers are troubling.

"Any time that we have young people that are not entering the work force at a time when they could be acquiring new skills and learning and gaining new experiences that will help them further down the road in their career is a concern," Richardson said.

David Campbell, the chief economist for the New Brunswick Jobs Board, also said the high jobless rate for young workers is a worry.

"The unemployment rate among young people aged 15 to 24 across the country is high but it is in fact the highest in the country here in New Brunswick and it should be a concern," Campbell said.

Students consider leaving

For many young people, they don't need a Statistics Canada report to remind them of their daily reality.

Youth unemployment rates in February
Canada 13.6
New Brunswick 17.1
P.E.I. 16.8
N.L. 16.7
N.S. 15.4
Quebec 13.8
Ontario 13.7
Sask. 13.6
B.C. 13.1
Alberta 12.8
Manitoba 12.6

Lindsay Handren, the executive director of the New Brunswick Student Alliance, said the high youth unemployment rate makes it difficult for young people to stay in the province.

"I hear from students all the time who want to stay in New Brunswick but just don't think that they will be able to because of the economic and job situation," Handren said.

She said the provincial government could help the situation by lowering student debt levels, promoting entrepreneurialism, reducing taxes on small businesses so they can hire more people and investing in education in growing fields, such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

The latest youth unemployment data is piling more bad news onto an economy that is groaning under the weight of an unemployment rate that is once again flirting with 10 per cent.

New Brunswick lost 5,700 jobs overall in February and saw the unemployment rate pushed up to 9.9 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. Of those, 2,300 jobs disappeared for people between 15 and 24.

Setting jobs targets

Richardson said the province's manufacturers would like to see targets set to reduce the unemployment rate.

"We should collectively between the business community and the government set a target for the overall unemployment rate to six per cent but get the youth unemployment rate down to at least the national average," Richardson said.

Even that task could be difficult for the New Brunswick economy. The last time New Brunswick's youth unemployment level was below the national average was June 2012.

In the last four decades [or 480 months], the province's youth jobless rate has only dipped below the national average 24 times and nine of those instances were in a stretch between February and November 2009.

Patrick Colford

Patrick Colford, the president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said many of his members are feeling the pinch of a high youth unemployment level. (CBC)

Patrick Colford, the president of the New Brunswick Federation of Labour, said the high jobless level for young people is troublesome because that's the age group that the province needs to retain to grow its economy in the future.

When the 2008 recession happened, Colford said, young workers were hit hard by job losses and many of those employment opportunities have never rebounded.

The labour leader said he often hears about the tough time facing young New Brunswickers.

"A lot of the youth members that we have are in precarious employment positions where they may be casual. It's tough," he said.

"We've all come through that. It is tough to get your foot in the door and when it is in the door, you want to keep it there."

Lack of demand in student-oriented jobs

The New Brunswick Jobs board official also said the unemployment level also decreases as workers get older so that indicates people are getting jobs when they graduate.

David Campbell

David Campbell, the chief economist for the New Brunswick Jobs Board, said the provincial government is trying different initiatives to get young people working. (CBC)

The 15-24 age group is primarily made up of students and that demographic has been hit hard in the economic downturn.

"So if most of the jobs for [students] tend to be in the services industry, accommodations, food services, retail. So when your economy is flat and our economy has been flat since 2008, you are not creating a lot of new demand for those kind of part-time, student-oriented type of jobs," Campbell said.

"So it is a problem but it is not as chronic a problem if it was young people who had graduated and were looking to develop their careers."

The provincial government official said the province is looking at different initiative to get more young people working.

Campbell said it is vital that these young workers get experience in the job force

"Structural unemployment among young people is a national problem … and it can create longer-term challenges for people that are out of the work force or are unable to find work for a long period of time," he said.