As was widely reported last week, Statistics Canada’s student summer employment numbers are in, and they aren’t good. Despite predictions that student summer employment would be improved from last year, the final report indicated that the average student unemployment actually rose to 17.2 per cent, a slight increase from the 16.9 per cent student summer unemployment rate reported for 2010. Older students continue to fare better with unemployment rates for 17-to-19 year olds and 20-to-24 year olds at 16.4 per cent and 10.3 per cent respectively, yet both significantly eclipse the overall population’s rate of 7.3 per cent.

This disappointing jobs situation is not exclusive to Canada. Many peer jurisdictions throughout the OECD are experiencing job crises, with exploding youth unemployment rates that eclipse Canada’s substantially. Across the globe, it is estimated that young people are more than twice as likely to be unemployed as their older peers with 81 million youth out of work. The youth unemployment rate has topped 40 per cent in Spain and Italy and is still climbing in many countries. As such, commentators on student summer unemployment would do well to note that it is an issue of global reach and complex roots. There is no simple, inexpensive solution, which is poor consolation to students who were unable to find a job this summer. In Canada, the greatest numbers of these students are in Ontario.

When broken down by province, Ontario had the one of the highest student summer unemployment rates in 2010. The increase in the average student unemployment rate in 2011 appears to have been driven by large increases in Newfoundland & Labrador, Nova Scotia, Alberta and British Columbia. Ontario’s student summer unemployment rate increased by 0.9 per cent from 17.3 to 18.2 per cent. This seems small in comparison to Newfoundland & Labrador’s astonishing 4.2 per cent rise, Alberta’s 2.9 per cent rise or BC’s 3.1 per cent rise.

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What should not be lost is that unemployment rates are entirely independent of the size of the population in question. While Ontario’s unemployment rate increased moderately in comparison to Newfoundland for example, the size of Ontario’s student population means that Ontario’s 0.9 per cent increase in student unemployment resulted in nearly eight times more unemployed students than Newfoundland’s 4.2 per cent increase. Approximately 9,400 more students between the age of 15 and 24 were unemployed in Ontario this summer, representing the largest increase in the country. This is 9,400 students who are expected by OSAP to generate income over the summer; 9,400 students who depend on summer income to help pay tuition by payment deadlines often prior to OSAP release dates; 9,400 students who will have to try and rely more on family income, private bank loans and other non-employment sources of revenue to fund their education.

For students fortunate enough to find a summer job in 2011, the average number of hours worked per week remained virtually unchanged from 2010; there was a negligible increase from 23.7 hours per week (the lowest recorded figure since 1977) in 2010 to 24 hours per week in 2011. This indicates that full-time employment has remained difficult to attain for a substantial number of students.

While Ontario’s summer student employment numbers may sound like a lot of bad news, it could have been much worse. Both the provincial and federal government have maintained important incentive programs for employers to hire students throughout the recession. Earlier this summer, we highlighted Employment Ontario’s summer job program as an excellent example. In 2010, it is estimated that this program helped over 130,000 students find work. Though Ontario may have not kept up with demand for student summer jobs, it is clear that without government intervention, many more students would have been unemployed this past summer.

For obvious reasons, students hope that the next government continues to support important employment incentive programs while investing further in student summer jobs. My take-away from the survey results is that the need for further action is growing by the thousands.

-Chris Martin
Director of Research