Statistics Canada unveiled data this morning indicating a two-percent increase nation-wide in summer unemployment among students (aged 20 to 24). It doesn’t sound like much, but when observed through the Ontario lens, that increase starts to weigh a little heavier. Last month, roughly 111,600 Ontario students were unemployed; that’s 8,400 more than last year. With the largest post-secondary system in the country, Ontario cannot afford to have the highest unemployment rate among students in the summer.
Canada’s overall economy has remained stable over the past year, with a marginally improved employment rate. But this new data, published in the Statistics Canada’s June Labour Force Survey shows a massive 2 per cent increase in summer unemployment for post-secondary age students across the country. Nationwide, that 2 per cent increase translates to 12,800 more students than last year facing unemployment in the summer.
In June 2009, the labour market downturn produced a student summer unemployment rate of 14 per cent. This dropped substantially to 10.4 per cent the year after, indicating that the student summer job market may have been only temporarily impacted by the 2008 recession. However since 2010, summer unemployment has increased dramatically, now only one per cent shy of the 2009 record. Conversely, the 2012 summer employment rate of 63.2 per cent was a 4.2 per cent drop from the 2011 rate of 67.4 per cent. The report points out that this is the lowest rate of student summer employment on record.
Clearly 2012 has not been a good year for student employment nation-wide. For OUSA, the question of how this downturn in student summer employment has affected Ontario is an incredibly important one. Last year, OUSA pointed out that even small changes in Ontario student summer unemployment have drastic consequences, due to the size of our post-secondary system (not to mention our high costs). Last year’s growth was less than a single percentage point, but meant that thousands more students were out of work than the year previous. This year, the overall growth in student unemployment in Ontario was 2.8 per cent, tying Ontario with Newfoundland and Labrador for the highest rate of student unemployment in the country.
I could talk about how this change indicates that the number of unemployed students has increased by thousands, or how troubling it is that Ontario has such high unemployment rates as well as having the highest number students in the country. However, I’d like to instead focus on costs.
Ontario has the highest tuition in the country and faces the highest rate of increase in tuition. While combined tuition and ancillary fee costs have increased substantially over the past several years, need-based assistance has only recently improved with the introduction of the new Ontario Tuition Grant. Less students working during the summer means that more students will come to rely on need-based assistance, which is already well known to underestimate actual student need. Furthermore, student assistance in Ontario expects students to work during the summer, with an expected pre-study period income contribution of close to $3,000 for single, dependent students. Students unable to find summer employment will have their assessed financial need even further removed from the realities of their costs.
In a context where student summer unemployment seems to be sharply on the rise, Ontario must continue to take steps to ensure that higher education remains affordable for all willing and qualified students. Continuing to invest in need-based assistance is an important step. However, without addressing Ontario’s rate of tuition rise, each year of increased student summer unemployment will come at an increased cost. This cost will come not only to students, but Ontario’s economy; which depends more than ever on a highly educated workforce.
Director of Research, Ontario Undergraduate Student Alliance