Young Torontonians are paying the price for living in a world-class city while struggling to find full-time work. 

This month, the Toronto Foundation released its annual civic report card, Vital Signs. The report aims to paint a socioeconomic picture of the metropolis through statistics. 

The report provides a context for municipal reform by identifying areas in need of improvement and compares the city to other regions in Ontario, as well as major metropolises abroad. 

This year’s edition presents some troubling facts, especially for students and young people in the labour market. 

Rahul Bhardwaj, chief executive offier and president of the Toronto Foundation, recently spoke at the St. George campus in a “Let’s Talk Toronto” panel discussion regarding the report. 

Bhardwaj said that Vital Signs shows that Toronto has become a world-class city, but that its government’s tendency to stick to the “middle road” puts it at risk of stagnancy when it comes to tackling the city’s pressing issues.

Youth in and out of the labour force 

One of Bhardwaj’s concerns is that, despite boasting an internationally-ranked post-secondary education system, Toronto youth face poor job prospects.

Vital Signs reports that Toronto’s youth unemployment rate continues to hover at about 18 per cent. While this has dropped from the 2012 rate of 21 per cent, Bhardwaj says such a high rate is startlingly reminiscent of some of Europe’s more economically-strained cities.

Equally concerning, Toronto’s youth employment rate is hovering around 43 per cent. A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives study suggests that this is the worst of any region in Ontario.

With so little work available in the city, the study suggested that more young adults are leaving the province to find jobs. 

The discrepancy between the youth employment and unemployment rates also indicate that there are a significant number of young people withdrawing from the labour force altogether. The study said that some of this trend is accounted for by youth enrolled in education or training.

However, Vital Signs reported that about 10 per cent of youth are neither in employment, education, or training. 

At the panel, Shauna Brail, a lecturer in the Urban Studies Department, expressed her concern with the implications of the statistics. She said the findings are especially concerning in cases where communities have heavily invested in youth education in the hopes of brighter futures. 

57.1 per cent of Torontonians over the age of 15 have some post-secondary credentials, while approximately one-third of food bank users in outer and inner suburbs are university or college graduates. “This isn’t how we think of having a post-secondary degree,” Brail said. 

Calling for change

Alastair Woods, chairperson of the Canadian Federation of Students Ontario, is worried that discussions on youth unemployment place too much of the onus on educational institutions preparing graduates for the labour market. 

Woods pointed out that Statistics Canada reports only one job vacancy for every six people looking for work, or every nine in Ontario.

Woods believes that strong government action is necessary to solve the unemployment crisis and to ensure the availability and accessibility of job opportunities for graduates, regardless of major.

The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives indicated that Toronto has the largest gap in the province between youth and adult employment, at nearly 22 per cent. 

In its March 2014 submission to the House of Commons Standing Committee on Finance studying youth unemployment, the Centre criticized the gap between the billions of dollars spent on the Canada Jobs Strategy and decreasing funding for the Youth Employment Strategy.

The same submission also called on the federal government to take a leading role in helping young people find jobs in their industry, offset costs for those relocating to areas with high job growth, and amend the Canada Labour Code to make unpaid internships illegal.

At the panel, Susan McIsaac, chief executive officer of United Way, also echoed Woods’ hope for government action in solving the issue of youth unemployment.

McIsaac indicated her particular interest in looking at cross-sectional innovations that will create broader positive change across the city. She suggested policy reforms to incentivize hiring youth and help youth gain first-time work experience, as well as programs for civic development.

University initiative

Despite discouraging municipal statistics on youth in the labour force, Althea Blackburn-Evans, U of T director of media relations, expressed optimism on the employment prospects for U of T graduates. She said that, based on a 2009 survey, the University of Toronto’s employment rate for graduates two years out is 91.7 per cent.

Blackburn-Evans also pointed out the multiplicity of programs and initiatives across the three campuses that aim to further graduates’ career prospects, including co-op programs, professional experience year programs, and career centres.