Katherine Marshall Educated Solutions article

Republished from Educated Solutions: The Affordability Issue (Issue 8, November 2011)

By Katherine Marshall, Chief of Content & Analysis, Labour Statistics Division, Statistics Canada

Most post-secondary students depend on earnings from a job to cover some of the cost of their education. However, youth employment can be particularly affected by economic downturns. Tuition fees have risen at a faster rate than inflation since the early 1990s.1 Recently, more high school and post-secondary students have been working during the school year and spending more time at their jobs than in the past, likely in response to increased costs.2

Using the Labour Force Survey (LFS) to examine long-term school-year employment trends among youth enrolled full-time in community college, CEGEP or university, the pattern is quite clear. Over the past 35 years, the employment rate among full-time post-secondary students increased from approximately one in four to just under one in two, with the summer employment rate remaining stable.

As youth unemployment rises during economic downturns, these important sources of student income decline, which can lead to increased borrowing. Some studies estimate an increase of 1 per cent in student unemployment leads to a 6 per cent increase in the number of students with loans. Research has shown that declining student employment rates in 1982 and 1990 were followed by large increases in the number of Canada Student Loan Program clients.3 The importance of student earnings in financing education was also evident in the Post-Secondary Education Participation Survey, which found that over one-quarter of the average student’s costs was met by employment earnings.  Students with jobs report using an average of $3,000 of employment income to help fund their studies.4

With lower levels of seniority, job permanency and job protection, young workers are often the first to be laid-off. The Canada-wide employment rate of full-time students during the academic year fell by over 3 percentage points between the fall 2008 term and the winter 2009 term. The summer of 2009 was the worst labour market for post-secondary students aged 20 to 24 since the recession years of 1982 and 1993. Between the summers of 2008 and 2009, the employment rate dropped from 70.3 per cent to 63.0 per cent, the unemployment rate increased from 9.0 per cent to 13.6 per cent, and the percentage with a full-time job dropped from 60.7 per cent to 56.6 per cent. Students in Ontario experienced the highest unemployment rate (17.1 per cent) and the second lowest employment rate (59.1 per cent) among all the provinces.

With average weekly employment hours dropping slightly, but not significantly, over the recent recession and hourly average Canada-wide wages increasing from $10.75 in 2007/2008 to $11.80 in 2009/2010, students working while in school held their ground in terms of earned income. For those students that kept their part-time jobs for the duration of the school year, average income from earnings for 2009/2010 would have been about $6,300. However, the 2.5 per cent increase in the unemployment rate suggests that, had the rate remained the same as before the downturn, an additional 30,000 students would have been employed while studying.

Employment hours increased steadily until the late 1990s and have since hovered around 16 hours per week, with nearly one in five employed students (18 per cent) working more than 20 hours per week. Working at least 20 hours per week has been shown to be an important threshold, with some studies indicating that long hours can interfere with post-secondary performance and student retention. Male students worked slightly longer hours on average per week (16.7) than female students (15.3). The employment rate during the academic year and average number of hours worked per week were slightly lower in Ontario in comparison to the national average.

Findings show that women are more likely to be employed during the school year: 52 per cent of full-time female students having a paid job during the school year compared with 41 per cent of full-time male students. Immigrant students are much less likely to work while going to school (32 per cent) compared with their Canadian-born counterparts (49 per cent). Going to school in a large urban centre, which offers more job opportunities, also increases the chances of being employed (47 per cent) compared to students living in smaller centres (39 per cent). Finally, college students are more likely to work while attending school (49 per cent) than their university counterparts (43 per cent).

Since employed male students worked about two extra hours per week, and earned more per hour than their female counterparts ($12.15 per hour in 2009/ 2010 versus $11.55), their weekly and school-year earnings were higher. Estimated school-year earnings were approximately $6,900 for men and $6,000 for women. Compared with students age 15 to 19, those aged 20 to 24 were more likely to work while going to school, work longer hours and have higher wages. The financial consequences for unemployed older students are therefore much greater than those for younger students. Furthermore, older students are also less likely to depend on their parents for financial assistance.

Of the 542,000 post-secondary students who were employed during the 2009/2010 school year, almost all (96 per cent) had a job in the service sector, compared with 78 per cent of the total non-post-secondary-student employed population. The majority of these were in retail trade, and restaurants and other eateries. Students also had a higher-than-average representation in the education services and arts, entertainment and recreation industries, where many work as research assistants and instructors in recreation and sport, respectively.

It is particularly difficult for students to be jobless during the summer due to the potential earnings loss. Students who were employed during the summer of 2009 earned $6,700 on average. The recent declines in the school-year and summer student employment rates due to the economic downturn, and subsequent increase in the unemployment rate, suggests more students would have been working at a paid job if they could have found one. However, student employment is starting to recover; students wanting work may soon have a better chance of being employed again.

Katherine Marshall has a BA in Sociology from the University of British Columbia and a MA in Women’s Studies from Carleton University. She currently works in the Labour Statistics Division at Statistics Canada and has spent many years writing for Perspectives on Labour and Income. Much of her research has focused on gender and family analysis, alternative work arrangements, and youth.

An unabridged version of this article was first published in Statistics Canada September 2010 Perspectives – Catalogue no. 75-001-X.

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2. Usalcas, Jeannine and Geoff Bowlby. 2006. “Students in the labour market.” Education Matters. Vol. 3, no. 1. April. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 81-004-XIE http://bit.ly/veySsJ (accessed August 10, 2010).

3. Usher, Alex and Ryan Dunn. 2009. On the Brink: How the Recession of 2009 Will Affect Post-secondary Education. Toronto,
Ontario. Educational Policy Institute. 33 p. http://bit.ly/ukOeOQ (accessed August 10, 2010).

4. Ouellette 2006