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Hungry students are the future

New report suggests generational wage gap larger than ever

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Is it any surprise that young people aren’t happy with their work prospects? According to a new report by the Conference Board of Canada, the income gap between the young and the old has been growing at breakneck speeds since the 1980s. This is just another message to the youth of today that the people in power, the last generation (and the one before that too – everyone is working longer than they used to) does not want the new workforce to have the same benefits they did.

We’ve never had a stronger grasp of the statistics, economics, and policies that shape our society. We can crunch the numbers to find out what kind of atmosphere a customer wants in a fastfood restaurant, but we can’t line up minimum wage with inflation? Yeah, right. In a time when everyone and their mother has a degree, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who couldn’t explain to you the problems with increasing taxes and cost of living while cutting social benefits and hours worked. Unless you asked in a private country club, I guess.

Media commentators often gripe about how young people seem to lack the fire of previous generations — that they need to grow up, show more ambition, and take control of their own lives. What could possibly disenfranchise a young person more than knowing the combination of ballooning education costs and pitiful employment prospects means they will have to work for decades before they’re even out of student loan debt?

My grandfather is still working. I don’t begrudge him that, because he’s gotta pay bills too. But that’s a job that one of my peers, fresh out of school with some shiny degree, can’t possibly compete for. Our aging population is still in the workforce, and these people in the “prime of their lives” control most of the decently paying jobs left in the increasingly lean employment market. How are people with blank resumes supposed to compete with folks their parents’ age who’ve got pages of work experience? (Please don’t utter the words ‘unpaid internships’ just yet, because I only have so much space here, and that form of exploitation is a rant for another day.)

The graduate the Globe And Mail interviewed for their coverage of the Conference Board of Canada’s report said she couldn’t place blame for the struggles she faces in finding work — that “it’s not like someone planned it that way.” I think she gives too much credit to the mega-corporations that hire millions of people across many countries. There would be disasters if teams of accountants and statisticians weren’t working to keep things moving smoothly, and I think part of that process is maximizing profits while minimizing payouts. The kind of manipulation involved in keeping books for enormous businesses seems to me to require planning – how else could Walmart afford to pay eight executives $250 million in the last quarter? Spoiler alert: it wasn’t by paying their entry-level staff a livable wage.

We’ve already convinced kids to work by giving them mountains of debt (whoops, I meant “education”). Now we should be giving them incentives to do good work. It doesn’t help the workforce if the largest employer only hires parttime at minimum wage. That just sets the standard too low.

“But if we paid them for forty hours a week we’d have to give them benefits too!” Yes, that’s the hope. Maybe they’ll even be able to retire once they hit sixty! Given that the alternative is the youth of 2055 complaining about our generation hogging all the part-time pizza delivery gigs, we should probably start distributing that wealth.

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