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The Canadian Dream is slipping out of reach for our generation

Written by Think Forward Staff
Friday, 06 May 2016

Are we “Generation Screwed?” That’s how a CBC panel recently described today’s crop of young graduates and job seekers, many of whom are struggling to find jobs, pay down crippling student debt, and fulfill the increasingly lofty goals of buying a home and starting a family.

There are multiple signs that the key elements of the Canadian Dream – the idea that if you work hard and apply yourself in school, you can land a good job in your field, work towards buying a house, and start building a family – are slipping out of reach for our generation.

Young Canadians coming out of school have an average student debt load of $27,000, and their ability to pay that debt off is diminishing thanks to sky-high youth unemployment and a growing shift towards precarious work.

The jobs that are currently available to most graduates tend to be temporary, part-time, and low-paying with minimal benefits and no pension plan. And that’s if job-seekers are actually able to find paid employment – for others, completing an unpaid internship (or three) is the only way to get their foot in the door and eventually secure a job in their field. Maybe.

Then there’s the issue of home ownership, which, for young people working in Canada’s major cities, is starting to become a fantasy. In the Greater Toronto Area, the average sale price for a home has surpassed $739,000, up more than $100,000 from this time last year. In Vancouver, a typical detached home costs $1.4 million, up 30.1 percent from a year ago. Home prices are also rising in Victoria, Edmonton, Hamilton, and other large cities, despite the fact that wages have stagnated.

It’s not just high house prices that are serving as a barrier to entry for first-time home buyers, but also the pace at which prices are rising in our major cities. Double-digit price increases in Canada’s largest centres are outstripping the ability of young would-be home buyers to save for a down payment, making home ownership a nice but ultimately unattainable “idea” for countless youth.

What about child rearing? Here again, the cost of what was once considered a basic rite of passage is quickly becoming unaffordable, especially for city dwellers. A recent study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA) found that child care fees are rising in cities across the country, with fee increases often outpacing the rate of inflation. From Saskatoon to London to St. John’s, it’s getting more expensive for young parents to raise children, and after years of talk and inaction, Canada still doesn’t have a national, affordable child care program.

With the Canadian Dream rapidly slipping away from our generation, we need to be demanding more from our elected officials, and asking tougher questions. What are our elected leaders doing to relieve student debt and make college and university more affordable for students? What steps are being taken to create jobs for young people and address our startlingly high youth unemployment rate? What role can government play in ensuring that housing is accessible to all? When can we expect to see a national, affordable child care program that helps young parents with the rising costs of raising children?

If our elected leaders are not able to provide good answers to these questions, and follow up with needed policy prescriptions, we can expect an entire generation to “come home to roost” at the ballot box. We are already seeing this happen in the U.S., where decades of worsening income inequality have helped create widespread support for economic populist candidates in the presidential race. If current trends continue, it will not be long before Canada experiences a similar political reckoning. 

 

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