A Bleak Outlook on Youth Un(der)employment (what the numbers say.)

Marquency Laurore consults the classified ads for a job in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Marquency Laurore consults the classified ads for a job in Montreal. (Paul Chiasson / THE CANADIAN PRESS) (CTV, 2014).

Can we attribute a part of this whole crisis to numerical oversight?

Probably not, but we can use the statistics, or the lack there of, to emphasis just how dire the situation is and hopefully motivate people to take action. Job reporting is a huge issue that has been under fire and came to a head recently when the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) challenged Statistics Canada’s (StatsCan) labour market findings on March 7, 2014.

The CLC argued that the labour reports being released by Statistics Canada were not detailed enough to accurately portray the labour market’s landscape. Although StatsCan believes unemployment is hovering at 7% the data shows that unemployment for youth is double that at 14% and underemployment is 28% among youth aged 15 to 24 (The Record.com). Looking at the following graph by Press Progress on labour market comparisons from 2013 we see that R4 (blue) is what Statistics Canada has termed as the “official” unemployed or “headline unemployed” but this number is only one part of the picture because R8 (red) includes the discouraged job searchers, waiting group and the involuntary part-time workers while yellow marks the underemployment rate.

A graph depicting the unemployment vs the discouraged workers vs the underemployed in the age group 15 to 24.
(Press Progress, 2014).

To get the whole picture you need to look at all three – and the graph does not paint a pretty picture clearly showing that Millennials are being the most adversely affected by high unemployment, discouragement, part-time work and underemployment when compared to our Baby Boomer counterparts.

Angella MacEwen, a senior economist, with the CLC, has noted that 80% of the 102,000 new jobs created last year were part-time (CBC, 2014), and these jobs were the prospects recent graduates were faced with. There is no longer that glorious promise of economic prosperity for youth – even if they do everything right. It’s such a basic thing we’re told that if we volunteer, intern, get a good education opportunity will follow. Both youth unemployment and underemployment is a problem because you’re benching the talent that has been so carefully cultivated to make a difference. Plus, the notion of interning in unpaid positions is also being challenged with Davenport MPP Jonah Schein’s Greater Protection for Interns and Vulnerable Workers Act, 2014. This private member’s bill is designed to take action on unpaid internships (refer to my blog post on internships for more information) (Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams, 2014).

Image of unpaid interns with signs around their necks.
(youth and work, 2012).

Despite being a relatively new story many media outlets have presented a very conservative objective story where they include all the information and statistics of labour analytic experts but to make the article more balance they also mention that the CANISM database (Canadian Socio-Economic Information Management System), a detailed source for economic data has the indicators for underemployment and part-timers listed there instead of in the labour market report. In fact, the initial article published by the Canadian Press appears to be treated as the primary source for all the other newscasters. The people who copy the article exactly are: Huffington Post, The Record.com, and CBC News. The only difference between each of these stories was the headline, picture and caption – as Ted Heighington discussed in our guest lecture the headline can tell a lot about an article and presenting more then one headline to editors allows them to present the subject matter to match their given audience.

But the article I wish to analyze using critical discourse analysis (CDA) as explained by Norman Fairclough’s in his book Language and Power is the only one that differed from the rest, The Globe and Mail’s spin on the story. Critical discourse analysis “is a type of discourse analytical research that primarily studies the way social power abuse, dominance, and inequality are enacted, reproduced and resisted by text and talk in the social and political context” (van Dijk, n.d., p.352). Fairclough uses CDA both to describe the approach he developed to the empirical study of the relations between discourse and social and cultural developments and as the label for the broader movement. He devised a list of questions through which one could critically analyze and interpret the formal features in a text. Therefore, you must be aware that you are not only looking at what is present in the text but also what the text is drawing upon (Fairclough, 2001).

An image of two silhouettes facing each other with the word discourse inbetween.
(The Blog for Stu Dunn, 2013).

It is a very balanced article with both Angella MacEwen from the CLC and Jason Gilmore from StatsCan being quoted as saying he hopes the agency will publish more data – a vague omission that promises nothing. However, it does frame the story as if we are, as a society, in the dark, “The public’s heavy focus on Statistics Canada’s monthly job numbers and unemployment rates do not tell the full story of the nation’s job market” (The Globe and Mail, 2014) and this sentiment is echoed in the headline, StatsCan doesn’t tell whole story about national job market, CLC report says. Even before reaching the argument from StatsCan, that they would like to use more comparable indicators but have not yet established a timeline, the article has already pointed out numerous flaws in Statistics Canada’s current measurements in an attempt to make the audience disgruntled:

  • “The headline unemployment rate becomes less and less useful on its own…The labour force is comprised of far more than simply employed and unemployed workers”
  • “Statistics Canada breaks these down into “visible” and “invisible” underemployed, and most data are focused on the visible underemployed, as it is much harder to measure the number of people whose jobs do not fit their skills.”
  • “Public does not receive clear data on the actual number of underemployed people…lacking attention to the broader issue”

However, The Globe and Mail is centrist and partial to economic liberalism. As a result the stories tend towards the belief that government action should be used to achieve equal opportunity and equality for all. They wish to emphasize that “the government should be [the ones] to guarantee no one is in need” (Student News Daily, 2010). So the way the article concludes by mentioning government involvement follows the newspaper’s tone and explains why they pulled quotes from MPs.

  • MP Peggy Nash (NDP): “We’re trying to get a truer picture of what is actually going on,” she said. “We know that the job situation is imbalanced in the country.”
  • MP Andrew Saxton (Conservative): “As long as there’s youth looking for jobs, there’s more work to be done,” he said.

In addition, mentioning The House of Commons Finance Committee holding meetings on underemployment and the need for analysis of the new Canada Job Grant (refer to previous post for information of this initiative) promotes government intervention, involvement and dedication to youth un(der)employment.

Although the article takes the position as an informative featurette it also has relational value (Fairclough, 2001), encouraging the social relationships between participants by hoping for cooperation between government and reporting bodies. Otherwise this piece is relatively straightforward employing no metaphors or euphemisms with which to evoke reactions.

The reality of this report is that it shows youth have been left behind.

This issue is clearly a concern that has been left on the back burner. And we’re burning. Burning out and burning up in meaningless employment that barely pays our bills or meets our expectations. If nothing else this debate highlights how encouraging the use of better data – and getting the statistics right – may lead to better job creation and awareness of this crisis.

Grafitti image of a hooded youth asking "What Next?"
(Career Cycles, 2012).


Canadian Labour Congress. (2014). 2013 in two words: Discouraged and Underemployed: CLC responds to year-end labour force statistics. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.canadianlabour.ca/national/news/2013-two-words-discouraged-and-underemployed-clc-responds-year-end-labour-force-statis

Career Cycles. (2012). The quiet disaster of youth unemployment. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://careercycles.com/averting-the-quiet-disaster-of-youth-unemployment

CBC. (2014).  Job data hides bleak employment reality, labour group says. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/jobs-data-hides-bleak-employment-reality-labour-group-says-1.2562094

CTV. (2014). Pattie’s Blog: Are employment numbers accurate? Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.ctvnews.ca/ctv-news-channel/pattie-s-blog-are-employment-numbers-accurate-1.1717304

Fairclough, N. (2001). Language and Power, 2nd edition. Harlow, UK: Pearson.

Huffington Post. (2014). Canadian Labour Congress Says Statistics Canada Needs to Change How It Reports Unemployment. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2014/03/06/canadian-labour-congress_n_4909495.html

Press Progress. (2014). Canada’s job numbers are worse than you think. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.pressprogress.ca/en/post/canadas-jobs-numbers-are-worse-you-think

Students Against Unpaid Internship Scams. (2014). Statement in Response to MPP Jonah Schein’s Greater Protection for Interns and Vulnerable Workers Act, 2014. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://payyourinterns.ca/2014/03/04/statement-in-response-to-mpp-jonah-scheins-greater-protection-for-interns-and-vulnerable-workers-act-2014/

Student News Daily. (2010). Conservative vs. Liberal Beliefs. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.studentnewsdaily.com/conservative-vs-liberal-beliefs/

The Blog for Stu Dunn. (2013). Discourse Analysis and Detecting Deception. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://studunnsdl.wordpress.com/2013/01/17/discourse-analysis-is-important-in-detecting-deception/

The Globe and Mail. (2014). StatsCan doesn’t tell whole story about national job market, CLC report says. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/statscan-doesnt-tell-whole-story-about-national-job-market-clc-report-says/article17341164/

The Record.com. (2014). Hidden jobs paint a bleak picture of Canada’s labour market: CLC. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.therecord.com/news-story/4401528-hidden-jobs-data-paint-a-bleak-picture-of-canada-s-labour-market-clc/

van Dijk, T. (n.d.). Critical Discourse Analysis. Retrieved March 7, 2014, from http://www.discourses.org/OldArticles/Critical%20discourse%20analysis.pdf

youth and work. (2012). Youth and Work on CBC’s The Current Talking About Unpaid Internships. Retrieved February 10, 2014, from http://www.youthandwork.ca/2012/05/youth-and-work-on-current-talking-about.html


3 thoughts on “A Bleak Outlook on Youth Un(der)employment (what the numbers say.)

  1. I appreciated your reiteration of the sentiment regarding news headlines. It’s amazing how the same story, when accompanied by a different headline or picture, can completely shape the story (as we saw in last week’s class exercise). I think this is especially interesting to examine when it comes to youth un- or under-employment. Over the past year, I feel there has been an influx in articles written on ‘millenials’, describing them as everything from innovative optimists to spoiled brats with no real ambition.The titles associated with such articles paint a highly conflicting image of millenials that I believe has a trickle-down effect on the market. If the media present a mixed perspective on young people, how are employers supposed to understand the needs of young people, the talent and insight they have to offer, and the responsibility of companies to provide opportunities to this generation? Certainly, no consensus is set to arise. However, if statistical data can provide a clear picture of the job market landscape facing young people, perhaps this can be a step in the right direction.

  2. Thank you for your feedback. It is amazing how the opinions differ on this topic and how Millennials are described using different terms to create a conflicting image.

  3. I completely agree with Caitlin. I think that headlines and images greatly influence our perception of information – and this makes sense. We are visual creatures, and first impressions of information or situations usually last far beyond initial exposure.

    With this stated, I have to say, I was taken by your discussion of data and figures. So often we are given only so much information to form our opinions, leading us down different paths, but ultimately the truth is somewhere in the middle. It is there for us to discover…if we have access to enough information.

    As you presented the information about the reported unemployed figures I couldn’t help but think of Fairclough, and how he would argue that such information facilitates ideology construction (in addition to language). For me, the power of words matched with the power of statistics and numbers sets the foundation of ideology. Through critical thinking and exposure to additional information we are able to piece together a more complete picture of reality, but this is quite a challenge.

    Articles like these help to reveal ideological structure, which brings us that much closer to the truth.

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