Youth Unemployment & Entrepreneurial Culture: Improving the Odds?

Article excerpt

Most social scientists, policy makers, and members of the general public regard youth unemployment as a major Canadian social problem. While Federal government statistics show that Canada's youth unemployment rate is an alarming 20 percent, it should be kept in mind that this is an underestimate because it does not include youths who have stopped searching for jobs. Accordingly, any estimate of youth unemployment generated by mainstream survey research should be considered "the tip of the iceberg."

You often hear people say, "What do you mean there are no jobs out there? There is plenty of work for kids if they want it!" Indeed, there are jobs, most of which are defined by career - oriented youths as either "bad," "low level," or "low paying." Here, we are referring to jobs provided by "lower - tier" industries, such as fast food chains, retail, and so on. These jobs are often characterized by drudgery, low pay and minimal opportunities for advancement. Thus, when we talk about youth employment, we should also take into account the problem of underemployment. Many researchers have shown that unemployment is a strong predictor of a host of social problems, such as drug abuse, gang activity and sexual assault.

In addition, Human Resources Development Canada data indicate that in 1992, youth under 25 years of age collected $2.5 billion in Unemployment Insurance Benefits and made up 17 percent of UIC recipients. In the same year, youth under 25 received over $2 billion in social assistance and represented 21 percent of social assistance cases. This puts the total financial burden of youth unemployment at $4.5 billion in 1992. Another consistent finding in recent research is that underemployment is a powerful determinant of youth deviance. In sum, as social policy analyst Elliott Currie, author of the path - breaking book Confronting Crime correctly points out, we should be fundamentally concerned with "economic viability," rather than just "employment per se."

What is to be done about the shocking Canadian youth employment problem? The complexity of the problem precludes us from providing simple, easy - to - implement solutions. Such an approach would be, to say the least, deceitful and make no contribution whatsoever to enhancing Canadian youths' quality of life. We do know that the factors influencing the rise of unemployment and underemployment include a network of factors well beyond the control of public, high school, and post - secondary school teachers and students. To name but a few of these: globalization; "corporate anorexia," the rise of the "contingent" work force; NAFTA; transnational corporations moving operations to Third World countries to utilize cheap labour; the implementation of high technology in workplaces; and the shift from a manufacturing to a service - based economy.

The sheer magnitude and complexity of these factors in relation to employment means that ideally, a complex, multi - agency and multidimensional response is required. In other words, we must avoid what Elliott Currie sees as the tendency to compartmentalize social problems along bureaucratic lines. For example, many people think that schools should only deal with education, while the private sector should only deal with employment and broader economic issues. This is an incorrect and short - sighted way of looking at the issues raised here. Now is the time for a diverse range of formal institutions and stakeholders to consider the ways in which increasing class size, closing factories, cutting funds to government - sponsored youth employment initiatives, etc. all affect youth employment and underemployment. Unfortunately, here, we must limit our focus to just "one part of the puzzle;" that is, how our Canadian educational system can, with the assistance of government agencies and members of the private sector, help overcome youth economic marginality by teaching students entrepreneurial skills.

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