Earlier this month, Stephen Poloz, the Governor of the Bank of Canada, sparked national outrage when he suggested that unemployed Canadian youth would do well to seek out unpaid work in order to avoid the negative effects of unemployment. During a news conference after his speech to the House of Commons, Poloz advised Canadians to “[g]et some real-life experience even though you’re discouraged, even if it’s for free. If your parents are letting you live in the basement, you might as well go out and do something for free to put the experience on your CV,” as reported in the Toronto Star.
Detractors spanning the political spectrum from across the country hammered Poloz for the comments and for the governor’s stance on unpaid internships, in which he glosses over concerns with regards to the efficacy and ethics of unpaid work.
What is most immediately alarming about Poloz’s statement, and most deserving of criticism, is the outrageousness of these comments coming from someone in his position and what they necessarily indicate for the future of Canadian youth. The content of the message alone is enough to rattle young people entering the job market, but it is what Poloz’s comments imply about the foreseeable future that is causing the most concern.
Since the 2008 financial crisis, central banks worldwide have taken on a significant role in the path towards economic recovery, which includes keeping up the public’s confidence. Central bank statements therefore often include predictions: messages of hope for the future. It is alarming then that Poloz’s most recent comments are devoid of the usual optimism.
The difficulties of finding employment and competing for higher education will continue to plague young Canadians for some time to come. Monetary policy and low rates, which will now be slowed down, have not, and will not, solve our employment issues. The fundamental causes of youth unemployment are much more deeply engrained and more broadly dispersed than the recession.
When Liberal MP Scott Brison asked Poloz if he thought unpaid internships have greater benefits for wealthier youth, Poloz said: “I wasn’t trying to go deeply in this and it’s not a monetary policy matter.” Now that Poloz feels that he has stabilized the economy and secured jobs for the majority of core taxpayers, he can muse on half-baked solutions to what he perceives as minor issues.
The uninterested and patronizing way in which he proposed a solution to the endemic unemployment of Canada’s emerging workforce indicates the extent to which he doesn’t think about the problem. Even though it is not simply a matter of monetary policy, Poloz’s inability to defend his response shows that he does not take responsibility for the economic well-being of Canada’s youth.
If he actually cared, he would have called on the standing committee of legislatures he was speaking with, people who are actually responsible for the matter, to pass laws to assist with youth unemployment. It is baffling that he can be so callous and apathetic when painting youth as basement dwellers that should work for free.
The sad truth is that he should care. With every passing year that youth cannot find jobs, Canada’s work force — which is already in peril as the baby boomers retire in droves — gets weaker. A vibrant youth contingent is an integral part of a successful economy and is the surest path to overall economic recovery. Young earners will consume a fair deal; they will buy homes, cars, and start families. It is a travesty, not to mention dangerous, for our generation not to receive more support.
Instead, we still have 200,000 young Canadians looking for work. Many more are working part-time to cover debt, and thousands more are currently in school pursuing expensive degrees in hopes of becoming more employable. These students are “looking for employment” — which by definition means trading hours of your life for monetary compensation, which they will then use to live.
This is not to say that unpaid internships are not valuable, or that the jarring effects of unemployment are not real. But these young Canadians are no longer looking for, and can no longer afford, unpaid opportunities on their résumé — they already have enough of those.
Further, Ali Hamandi’s opinion piece in the Toronto Star suggests that those with unpaid experience are actually less employable than their paid peers.
Poloz’s statement then raises the question: if there is enough demand for Canada’s unemployed youth to take on these unpaid jobs, then how is it that companies cannot pay them to take on all these vacant positions? The answer is likely that these positions do not actually exist.
If these positions do exist, companies will take advantage of free labour to lessen their workloads. Most companies are not actively looking for free labour unnecessarily. They don’t need Poloz to give them the “okay” to take on free labour; they need to be coaxed into hiring more paid youth.
Canada’s leaders need to take youth employment seriously, and not mindlessly promote potentially precarious solutions. Effective policies do exist and can be extended. For example, existing government subsidies and programs have been effective in creating paid jobs for youth. Canadian youth do need to make difficult decisions, and their prospects are not as bright as their parents’ — but we need support and we cannot simply settle for unpaid work. Poloz’s statements have helped youth in one area: he put the issue on the agenda. Hopefully more people, with better ideas, will take notice.
Christian Medeiros is a third-year student at Trinity College specializing in international relations.