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Onward and upward

Despite tough economic times, the next generation will find its own answers

By David Wilson

What the future might hold for young people  is a hot topic around our house right now. The eldest of our two kids will graduate from university this month. His sister’s turn will come in three short years.

I’ll confess that the discussion has its anxious moments. The what-next question is much harder to answer today than it was a generation ago. While the sky wasn’t exactly the limit back then, it was still possible to aim high and expect a reasonable chance of hitting the mark.

Targets of any sort seem to elude a lot of 20-somethings today. You probably know at least one bright, qualified, energetic young person who’s shunting from one temporary job to another, unable to gain any career traction and growing more and more pessimistic about the future.

Times were tough enough for young people when the global economic crisis struck in 2008. The meltdown drove youth unemployment to a 30-year high, and it has remained at crisis levels ever since. According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate for 15- to 25-year-olds stood at 14.3 percent this past February, almost twice the national average. The same survey showed that the economy is creating five times more part-time positions — those dreaded McJobs — than it is full-time positions. A 2010 report from the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation gave Canadian college and university graduates aged 25 to 29 the dubious distinction of having one of the highest rates of underemployment in the industrialized world.

What’s a parent to do? Maybe the best thing is to let go and have confidence our children will find their own answers. You can bet they’ve been watching with great interest the recent events in the Middle East and North Africa, where young people have helped to lead rebellions that are as much about overcoming despair as they are about toppling corrupt tyrants. Obviously the Canadian context is different, but I wonder whether the example of young people in Tunisia and Egypt and Libya mobilizing in the cause of a better future might inspire some constructive muscle-flexing here too.

Young Canadians already have a powerful tool for change at their fingertips — there’s a federal election this month. Typically, youth turnout in elections is dismally low. Maybe the youth movement overseas will kickstart a turnaround. Both my kids will be home from university in time for the election, and I’d be delighted if they got involved in whatever campaign offers them hope — and tried to sway my vote as well. What’s in their best interest is probably in the best interest of the rest of us.

• Twenty-five-year-old Cory Ruf of Toronto is one young person whose future looks very bright. Recently graduated from Ryerson University’s master’s program in journalism, Cory joins our editorial team this month as our 2011 Muriel Duncan summer intern. Watch for his byline in coming issues of the magazine.


Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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