‘I can’t even get a job waitressing’: Gen Y on its work woes

Starting a career as a young adult today is precarious work.

Almost one-quarter of the generation of young adults born between 1981 and 2000 are working temporary or contract jobs, nearly double the rate for the entire job market. Almost one-third are not working in their field of education, 21 per cent are working more than one job, and close to half are looking for a new job.

These numbers come from a Globe and Mail online survey of millennials that attracted 2,636 responses from people who weren’t in school and either working or unemployed. Taken together, the results show a significant number of millennials are not prospering in today’s economy.

“My metaphor is an escalator going down faster than young people can run up, no matter what adaptations they make,” said Paul Kershaw, a University of British Columbia professor and generational equity expert who founded the group Generation Squeeze. “They go to school longer, they work longer hours, they delay starting families. But those adaptations aren’t enough to sprint up faster than the escalator is going down.”

Job quality is more the issue for millennials than quantity. The unemployment rate for young people is a little less than double the national rate of 6.6 per cent, which is in line with previous generations. People entering the work force after graduation have always battled to find their way.

But the survey results suggest there are additional challenges today that can’t be dismissed as a brief stage young people must pass through on the way to career success. Of the people who answered our questions, 45.6 per cent turn 30 this year or are already in their 30s.

“What boomers might have experienced when they were 21, people are now experiencing when they’re 31,” said Vasiliki Bednar, who headed the federal government’s Expert Panel on Youth Employment. “I think a lot of people would agree that the 20s are a messy time. When we see people in their 30s who are experiencing delayed adulthood, that’s a problem.”

A late start in career-building can have effects for decades to come. Parents have children later or not at all, major purchases like houses get pushed off and saving for retirement is postponed. For governments, this raises questions about whether today’s young people will be productive enough as taxpayers to bear the costs of our aging population.

Here are the highlights of The Globe’s millennial employment survey with analysis from a trio of experts – Ms. Bednar, Prof. Kershaw and Benjamin Tal, deputy chief economist at CIBC World Markets.

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