Life 'like a jungle gym': Hamilton millennials talk work, struggles and why they love this city

More than 40 young people showed up at the Hamilton Public Library on Wednesday to discus what life is like for Hamilton millennials — and how to improve it.

Less than half of Hamilton millennials have full-time, permanent work, survey finds

Around 40 young people discussed challenges and solutions at Wednesday's event in Hamilton. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Unstable work. Unorthodox career choices. A strong love for Hamilton.

More than 40 young people showed up at the Hamilton Public Library on Wednesday to discus what life is like for Hamilton millennials — and how to improve it.

Jeffery Martin organized the discussion, as a follow up to his 2017 survey, which found many Hamilton millennials faced precarious employment, low incomes and poor mental health.

Martin, who started the survey as part of a masters at McMaster University, found fewer than half of millennials had permanent, full-time work. Mental health was "the biggest red flag" of his findings, Martin said, and was connected to precarious employment.

Millennials also have a strong attachment to Hamilton, said Martin. However, he thinks they may start leaving the city due to lack of work and affordable housing.

Here's what some millennials who were there said about working and living in the Hamilton area.

Christine Fandrich: 'A jungle gym'

Christine Fandrich, 30, lives in Hamilton. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Life as a millennial "is kind of like a jungle gym," said Christine Fandrich, 30.

A lot of people thought it was a bad decision to leave her permanent, full-time job in information management. 

But Fandrich wanted to explore a new skill, so she took a maternity contract learning a new HR software.

For millennials, she said,  a career is "not like a ladder where you're going to go straight up and there's one direction."

"We're willing to take opportunities and chances," she said, "and will maybe take a step back in order to get four steps further in the future."

Fandrich doesn't own a home, but that gives her the freedom for different life experiences. She graduated in 2012 with $28,000 in debt and now owes $12,000.

"Not saving up the money to have that down payment...means I can do things to live my life now," said Fandrich.  "I don't know if I'm going to be here when I'm 60." 

Chris Viola: Jobs 'just aren't there'

Chris Viola, 27, is from the Hamilton Mountain. He said the job market is extremely competitive right now. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Chris Viola, 27, is having a tough time finding a job. 

"They always said go to college and university — that's what we all did," said Viola, who is from Hamilton Mountain.

"Then you come into the market and the jobs...they aren't there."

Viola graduated from public relations in 2015, and has taken certifications and digital courses in digital marketing since then. His last job was at the end of 2017.

He's putting in applications almost every day, Viola said, and doing two or three interviews a month.

But it's competitive out there. Some of his peers have been lucky, he said, but he knows others who have not been.

Chris is "trying to keep a positive outlook, but it is difficult," he said, also noting the number of unpaid internships.

Joe Gurr: Permanent work: 'I thought it would never happen'

Katrina Parisi and Joe Gurr both have full-time, permanent jobs now — but it took a long time. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Joe Gurr was 30 when he got his first full-time, permanent job.

Before that, "it was just contract after contract after contract," said Gurr, now 33 and living in Hamilton.

He had to go back to college to specialize, he said, and struggled to afford rent.

It was a similar story for Katrina Parisi before she got her full-time job.

"I never thought would happen, at least not for a long time," said Parisi, who was 27 when she moved out of her parents' home.

For years she was working multiple jobs — sometimes up to four at once — and constantly had to balance her work schedule.

"It was frustrating," said Parisi, 29, who now rents in Burlington (home ownership isn't viable anytime soon).

"There were lots of seven day weeks, lots of paying out of pocket for medicare, prescriptions."

Gurr, 33, moved from Niagara to Hamilton so he could afford a house around two and half years ago. With the influx of young people in Hamilton, he said, this age group now has more of a voice here.

Amber Richardson: Choosing self-employment

Amber Richardson, 32, loves Hamilton. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Amber Richardson, 32, left a full-time management job in Toronto a few years ago.

The long commute from Hamilton meant giving up a lot of her life and freedom, she said — not to mention, less time with her two young children.


So three years ago, she decided to be self-employed in public relations. She can now work from home doing the kind of work she wants. Plus, she truly loves living in Hamilton.

"You can really get to know the people around you," said Richardson, the vice chair of the Hamilton Hive, an organization that helped with Martin's survey.

She loves Hamilton's neighbourhood feel, culture and the ease of transportation.

But the rising cost of living needs to stop, she said, and there needs to be space for people who live in the city.

She would like to see higher wage jobs, she said — it's enticing to leave when people can get paid thousands more for work in Toronto.


Richard Smale: 'I just like it out here'

Richard Smale lives in Mississauga, but really likes Hamilton for its spirit and community. (Laura Howells/CBC)

Some millennials in the GTA might live in Hamilton they could.

Richard Smale, 32, has a home in Mississauga with his wife and daughter. But ever since doing a degree at McMaster University, he keeps coming back Hamilton.

He loves its arts scene, blue-collar ethos and approachable people. 

"I was on the street parking and a guy says, what's the score of the game right now?" said Smale, who works as a recruiter.

He and his wife considered moving here, Smale said, but housing was expensive and they stayed in GTA to be close to work.

"I just like it out here," said Smale. "People are more down to earth and real. it's not the same when you live in the GTA."

He may move to Hamilton with his family someday, but says housing needs to be more affordable.

Ingrid Ritums: 'A breaking point'

Ingrid Ritums, 30, says she's not a typical millennial: she has a house, a full-time job, and two young children. (Laura Howells/CBC)
Ingrid Ritums, 30, says she's not a "super typical" millennial.

She has a two-year-old and five-year-old, a full-time job, and owns a home.

But she did it by taking "hold of [her] life from a very young age" she said. She didn't have parental money to fall back on and couldn't get a loan for post-secondary education.

She took whatever job she could, fell in love, and got a federal government job by paying her own way through night school courses.

But she says the cost of living is out of control. She's thankful her in-laws can pay for "exorbitantly expensive" childcare while she's had to take some time off work.

Daycare costs $1427 a month for one child, she said, and before and after-school care would be $430 — "larger than my mortgage."'

She's a strong labour activist — she came to the discussion with the Public Service Alliance of Canada — and says her union is encountering a lot of red tape to access basic needs.

"We're not asking for much. We're asking for affordable housing, we're asking for our healthcare to be funded properly, we're asking for childcare," she said.

"I hope that we're reaching a breaking point."