​More people with PhD, master's degrees working for low wages

The number of people with advanced post-secondary degrees doing low wage work has increased by 60 per cent in Canada since 1997, according to new research by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards.

Number of university grads has doubled since 1997

The number of people with advanced university degrees has doubled since 1997, says Andrew Sharpe, executive director of the Centre for the Study of Living Standards. That's one reason why the number of people holding PhD and MA degrees working low wage jobs has grown by 60 per cent since then. (Darryl Dyck/Canadian Press)

The number of people with advanced post-secondary degrees doing low wage work has increased by 60 per cent in Canada since 1997, according to new research by the Centre for the Study of Living Standards. 

The findings were released Wednesday in the group's wide-ranging report on Trends in Low Wage Employment in Canada: Incidence, Gap and Intensity, 1997-2014. 

There are lots of strong candidates with PhDs ... all vying for a limited pool of jobs."- Stefan Jackowski, PhD in kinesiology, 2013, University of Saskatchewan

"People with [master's degrees] and PhDs – only eight per cent of them in 1997 had a low wage job, now it's gone up to 12 per cent," said Andrew Sharpe, executive director of the centre. "Basically the chances of highly educated people getting a good job have fallen over time."

For the purpose of the study, low wage work was defined as work that paid $16 an hour or less. 

That's something Stefan Jackowski knows all too well. He graduated with a PhD in kinesiology in 2013 from the University of Saskatchewan. 

"I didn't think it would be easy, but I didn't think it would be as difficult as it's proving to be," Jackowski said. "It just seems these days there are lots of strong candidates with PhDs in the health sciences field ... all vying for a limited pool of jobs."

Jackowski said kinesiology was his second post-doctoral program. He said he's applied for 10 jobs since the beginning of 2016. He's had three interviews, but no job offers.

Supply vs. demand

Part of the problem is the supply of highly-educated workers is outpacing the demand for their expertise, Sharpe said. 

"The number of people with a university education has literally doubled in Canada between 1997 and 2014," he said. 

"We've expanded our educational facilities and our programs significantly. We always think that education is the ticket to a good job and it is ... but it's increasingly not a guarantee."

Still, Sharpe said the numbers shouldn't discourage people from pursuing higher education and suggested the onus should be on employers to create more jobs for highly-skilled workers. 

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