Calgary

What it's like being 30 and going through the 3rd recession of your adult life

The majority of this generation's members — born between 1980 and 1996 — have been through this before, some of them more than once.

Millennials who coped with previous economic downturns share tips on surviving

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to close, putting hundreds of thousands of Canadians out of work and leading to what, for some young people, will be the second — or third — recession of their short adult lives. (Kate Bueckert/CBC)

As Canada braces for a recession some experts are already comparing to the Great Depression, some millennials are taking a close look at their finances for the first time.

However, the majority of this generation's members — born between 1980 and 1996 — have been through this before. The eldest had entered the workforce and were laid off in the period after the 2008 market crash. Those who graduated in the late aughts recall the sparse job offerings and widespread financial anxiety. As a result, they're feeling more prepared for whatever's coming now.

The Canadian Press spoke to three Canadian millennials on what they learned during their first recession and how to get through the current one.

Don't be too hard on yourself, says one Toronto financial counsellor.

Thirty-four-year-old Jessica Moorhouse spent the majority of her first year in the working world unemployed.

She graduated from Simon Fraser University with a degree in film in 2009. Though she'd heard whisperings from her parents and older friends about the toll the 2008 housing crisis had taken on the country, Moorhouse didn't expect to face a job market as stripped of job prospects as the one she saw.

"As I was approaching that graduation deadline, then I kind of realized, 'this seems a little bit harder,"' Moorhouse says. She lived with her parents for a stint to save money while passing out resumes, all the while thinking, "this is not the future I was promised after studying and working so hard and getting a degree."

She eventually found work at a Vancouver-based newspaper, where she stayed for three years, making just enough to move out of her parent's house and into a basement suite with two roommates. "It was tough. I was broke," Moorhouse says.

Tired of living paycheque to paycheque

Growing tired of living paycheque to paycheque, she began reading personal finance blogs and books on investing, and eventually completed a digital marketing certificate program and built a career as a financial counsellor and blogger.

Moorhouse says researching past financial crises — including the forces behind market crashes and the course of their inevitable rebounds — brought her a sense of comfort through the darker hours of the 2008 recession.

"Give yourself that kind of background that this isn't the first time this has ever happened. It's the first time it's happened to you, but not the first time in history," she says. "Hold tight for a few years and you're going to be just fine."

Moorhouse also says it's important to be kind to yourself if you're experiencing financial strain, as finding ways to make spare cash under lockdown orders is virtually impossible.

"Cut yourself a bit of a break, realize this is special, and it's not your fault," she says.

For Calgary web designer Nick Heer, resourcefulness is key.

Staring down a third recession in Alberta

At just 30 years old, Heer says the current recession is the third he's experienced in his adult life.

The Calgary-based web designer turned 18 as the market was crashing in 2008. He graduated from university in 2014, just as his province's economy took a sharp downturn due to plunging oil prices. Understandably, applying for jobs was a challenge.

"I sent out resumes for, I don't know, probably like 50 jobs," Heer says. "And I got one call back."

Fortunately, that interview turned into a job. "I've been really lucky," he admits. But looking back, he says the amount of economic turmoil he's witnessed in little over a decade is troubling.

"Something is deeply wrong if I've gone through this three times in my adult life," he says.

Heer says it's difficult to dole out financial advice in periods when the population is in survival mode. But if there's one thing he's found to be central to making it through a recession, it's resourcefulness.

"Every piece of financial advice that I have been given has had to be stretched out or maximized in some way," Heer says. "It's no longer enough to save a little bit every paycheque for a short-ish period of uncertainty. It's now necessary to save more for more uncertainty."

Try to stay busy

Vancouver-based animator Amanda Wong's advice is to stay busy.

Wong graduated from design school in 2009, at a time when "there were absolutely no entry points for new graduates" in her industry.

Now 36, Wong says she had to rely on her background in commerce (for which she earned a bachelor's degree prior to venturing into animation) to get through the recession. She got a job in marketing at the Vancouver Film School, where she spent a year. Eventually, she was able to pivot back into the work she wanted to be doing, but says many of her classmates weren't as lucky.

"There was at least a third that never made it into the industry," Wong says, noting that in recent years, prior to the outbreak of the coronavirus, she's seen graduating classes at major film schools achieve hiring rates closer to 90 or 100 per cent.

Wong says it's important not to blame yourself if you're struggling financially at the moment. With the job market tenuous and many working conditions unsafe, the most productive way to get through the coming recession will be to enhance your employability.

"Go to a resume workshop. Network. Try to keep yourself busy with an individual project to boost your portfolio," Wong suggests. "It's important to keep your mental health up and not blame yourself too much for worldwide economic conditions that you cannot control."

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.