What are we Saying? That there’s a job crisis, but we’ll fix it. (A look at Ontario’s response to youth unemployment)

An image of a woman looking at a board with job postings (Wynne, 2013). Photo taken by BRIAN SNYDER / REUTERS.

The crisis that I will address over the course of the semester is youth unemployment in Canada. Although it is never the top news story or considered breaking news in our fast paced society it is an ever evolving, politically charged social issue that recedes into the background despite having potentially devastating effects not only on this generation but also the next and the previous. Many students who graduate high school or from a post-secondary institution and cannot find employment tend to be either unemployed or underemployed in low paying jobs that do not utilize the skills that they learned from their education, earning them nicknames like “College Grad Barista.” However, despite being underemployed they are still burdened with their student debt accrued during post-secondary education.

I have analyzed the language used in two commentaries given on this crisis following a statistic released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, which stated, that at 16.4 percent, Ontario’s youth unemployment rate was among the worst in Canada (Job Market Monitor, 2013). The first commentary was titled “10 ways to fix Ontario’s youth unemployment crisis” by Bruce Davis the former Chair of the Toronto District School Board and the second was titled “Time to bust myths about youth unemployment” by Kathleen Wynne, Premier of Ontario.

Looking at the two articles side by side they immediately state the statistic and supplement by saying it is one of the worse rates in Canada, with Wynne actually adding that in Toronto the youth unemployment rate is 18.2 percent (Wynne, 2013). This preys on the audience’s fear and insecurity. One fact that both speakers fail to add is that this statistic addresses the labour market trends of Ontarians between the ages of 15 to 24 (Job Market Monitor, 2013). Much of their discussion focuses on the issues surrounding high school students and disadvantaged students, not the older generation of recent post-secondary graduates who are faced with the reality of a dwindling job market.

Davis looks to building community programs like the one he created with the Toronto public school board, Focus on Youth. Most of his commentary uses “we” and he looks to the government and employers to fund social programs for youth. Never once are the youth  themselves accountable for being “jobless.” It all seems very slanted and at times not realistic, for example suggesting that we raise minimum wage but have teens paid less or have OLG hire youth to clean their stables. This calls into question his understanding of the statistic because many recent undergraduates are trying to support themselves and lower paying jobs are not the solution. The tenth tip almost definitely indicates his personal bias because he suggests that with the current volume of unemployed teachers they should entice veteran teachers to retire and be replaced by the youth. This statement seems to disregard that many people of the baby boomer generation do not have enough to retire on and “enticing” them out of their livelihoods seems a little narrow minded.

Wynne has a different, yet remarkably similar vision. The Ontario government has created the Youth Jobs Strategy where they will support the young people who contribute to the Canadian economy. She constantly regales the readers with “I really want to help young people find jobs,” “I have met incredible young men and women,” “I have met students,” and “I have marvelled.”  As mentioned in Cindy Chung’s and James Pennebaker’s article “the use of first person singular is associated with negative affective states” (350) and “paying attention to the self” (352). This message seems very self-important and could, potentially, be a political ploy trying to make the situation sound more positive then it actually is. She is very supportive of the youth, constantly building them up but it almost seems dehumanizing – who are these students? What are their ideas? This is something I would very much like to know.

After reading both these commentaries it is clear that there is a problem, which needs to be addressed but I wonder about which audience they are addressing. I worry that perhaps my generation, the one burdened with debt and facing a job market where baby boomers are not retiring, is being forgotten.

 Resources

Chung, C., & Pennebaker, J. (2007). Social Communication. New York, NY: Psychology Press.

Davis, B. (2013). 10 ways to fix Ontario’s youth unemployment crisis. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/09/30/10_ways_to_fix_ontarios_youth_unemployment_crisis.html

Job Marker Monitor. (2013). Young and jobless in Ontario/ a report by Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives Retrieved January 23, 2014, from http://jobmarketmonitor.com/2013/09/27/young-and-jobless-in-ontario-a-report-by-canadian-centre-for-policy-alternatives/

Wynne, K. (2013). Time to bust myths about youth unemployment. Retrieved January 20, 2014, from http://www.thestar.com/opinion/commentary/2013/10/16/time_to_bust_myths_about_youth_unemployment_kathleen_wynne.html

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5 thoughts on “What are we Saying? That there’s a job crisis, but we’ll fix it. (A look at Ontario’s response to youth unemployment)

  1. Great post. I think the use of “I” in this article is highly political. Unemployment is a huge problem, but a problem that gets people out to vote. By using “I” to suggest that she alone will take on this problem, she’s definitely influencing voters. However it also suggests to me that she’s using this problem as a political vehicle, rather than a genuine problem that requires the cooperation and contribution of a “we,” not an “I.”

  2. Hi Olivia,

    I’m really glad you’re writing about this – it’s an issue I’m very passionate about. To avoid echoing Miri, I think I’ll offer ideas for future entries.

    I think you should discuss Ontario’s Employment Standards Act. You’ll notice that Ontarians who are in unpaid internships aren’t included in employment statistics, which is a reason why our province has such a high youth unemployment rate. That being said, there are six prerequisites listed in the Act that allude to why internships aren’t considered real jobs. However, almost every internship posting I’ve seen does not abide by all six of these prerequisites and is therefore illegal.

    Maybe Wynne should get Yasir Naqvi, her labour minister, to do something about this …

    Just some food for thought!

    1. Great feedback. Thank you Marcus. That sounds like a fantastic source for a later post. There are so many people talking about this issue, yet so little seems to be done about it – especially for the Millennials.

  3. Glad you took on this issue, Liv. Youth unemployment is a symptom of a larger structural problem in Canadian society. Higher education in Canada has become too democratized, making us some of the most educated people on Earth; however, while we are educated, too many people are holding BAs and BComms making the worth of each degree to plummet. Wynn is between a rock and a hard place. Your textual analysis of her pronoun usage is spot-on: of course she is in a negative affective state trying to make the situation sound more positive than it actually is. Of course her language use refers to educated youth while denying their voices to be heard. The problem is a much bigger one that she cannot solve in one term, and yet she must seem that she has a grip on the problem. This is a difficult situation to unpack. I’m curious to see how it develops and how you diseect in your blog.

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