Student jobless rate shows need for government help, MP says

Student employment levels are at their lowest level since 1977 and it's time for the federal government to do more to help young people find jobs, Liberal MP Scott Brison says.

June employment levels for students lowest since 1977

Liberal MP Scott Brison says students need help from the federal government to find jobs, including a hiring credit and more funding for a summer jobs program. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Students need help from the federal government to find summer jobs, Liberal MP Scott Brison said Wednesday.

Citing statistics showing a poor jobs picture for youth and students, Brison said the government needs to draw up a strategy, including a hiring tax credit dedicated to youth, more funding for the Canada Summer jobs program and reopening summer job centres that the government closed.

"Doing nothing makes post-secondary education less attainable and less affordable. It makes it tougher for young Canadians to get real work experience. And cutting the number of jobs in the Canada Summer Jobs program hurts community organizations, from food banks to recreation halls to museums, that rely on this program to deliver services."

The Canada Summer Jobs program gives money to not-for-profit organizations, public-sector employers and small businesses with 50 or fewer employees to hire full-time students aged 15 to 30 years.

June statistics show only 63.2 per cent of students aged 20 to 24 and returning to school in the fall had jobs. That's down about four percentage points from the previous June, and the lowest June employment rate since 1977.

That's an unemployment rate of 13 per cent. In June 2008, before the recession hit, the student unemployment rate was 9.2 per cent.

A spokeswoman for Human Resources and Skills Development Minister Diane Finley says the government will have some "additional details" to announce soon about funding.

"Youth unemployment is a key focus for Minister Finley and for the government as a whole. It is always concerning when we have a rate that is higher than we would like, but we are making unprecedented investments in order to address the issue," Alyson Queen told CBC News.

"We continue to be proud of the fact that over 36,000 students are employed in the summer through the Canada Summer Jobs program."

Fewer jobs despite funding increase

Queen also noted the government has a hiring tax credit for small businesses.

Brison says the summer jobs program hired more than 47,000 students in 2006, but will be down to 36,000 in 2012. That's despite a $10 million increase in funding in 2009.

The numbers, provided by the government, are for the total number of students who are hired and don't distinguish between full- and part-time work, which could be one explanation for the lower hiring rate despite the increased funding.

Numbers provided by Brison's office, however, show the number of hours of work has also fallen. The number of hours of work under the Canada Summer Jobs program dropped by nearly four million, to 12,296,089 hours in 2010 from 16,272,852 hours in 2006, for about 10,000 fewer jobs.

Minimum wage has also changed, however, rising in Ontario alone from $7.25 an hour in 2006 to $9.60 an hour in 2010, Queen said. Ontario has a student wage that's lower than the general minimum wage.

Finley talked about youth unemployment at a May meeting of G20 labour and employment ministers, noting there isn't one answer. In the May 17 speech in Mexico, Finley said young people need better information and tools so they can make better career choices.

Remind students of 'value of working'

"We also need to remind our young people of the importance of contributing to the economy — and the value of working and having a job," she said.

"We are making improvements [to the Employment Insurance system] to ensure that Canadians, including youth, are better encouraged and supported to accept opportunities that are available where they live and that match their skill sets."

Queen pointed to the government's Youth Employment Strategy, noting the federal budget contributed an additional $50 million over two years to the program.

Brison says the students face another challenge as they compete for jobs against seniors coming out of retirement to rebuild their savings and against middle-aged Canadians who have lost their jobs. He painted the decrease in summer jobs provided under the program as a choice by the government.

"This government is attacking Canada's most vulnerable," he said, pointing to the government's plan to start raising the age of eligibility for Old Age Security in 2023.

"In addition to the regressive decision to reduce the number of Canada Summer Jobs created by the program, the changes to OAS and the changes to EI have the capacity to make thing even worse for Canadian students to find summer jobs in the future."