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Recession hits young workers hard

OTTAWA - Mark Bresee had all the trappings of a successful young graduate a year ago: the plasma TV, the posh apartment and a new engineering job.

OTTAWA - Mark Bresee had all the trappings of a successful young graduate a year ago: the plasma TV, the posh apartment and a new engineering job.

Less than a year later, the job was gone, the television was for sale and he was living with his parents.

Bresee, 23, is part of a growing number of unemployed youth in Canada. Young people aged 15-24 who had been working full-time have lost a disproportionate number of the jobs that have disappeared in this recession.

Compared to past recessions, youths have also been tossed out of work faster and earlier.

Bresee lost his engineering job at a mining consulting firm that he got straight out of university. The collapse in commodity prices meant the projects he was hired to work on never materialized.

He's now applying for a travel work visa in England, where he expects to find work busing tables or taking calls at a hotel.

"I was making north of $50,000, and I'll be making minimum wage over there," he said.

Not everyone was as lucky as Bresee to get a job, no matter how briefly, in a chosen field right after graduating. James Fairs, 23, also graduated last spring, from the print media program at Ottawa's Algonquin College. He wasn't surprised when he didn't get a job right away, but when the economy crashed last fall so did his expectations.

"I had interviews at a bunch of different places in September," he said. "Then two months later, the economy takes a nose dive and there's nothing."

He said he'd like to take a web design course to beef up his resume, but can't afford it. He can only get part-time hours at The Superstore in suburban Kanata, and spends most of his minimum-wage paycheque on the rent his parents charge him to live at home.

Statistics Canada announced in its latest labour force survey that almost 15 per cent of people aged 15-24 are currently unemployed, the highest rate since 1998.

Canada has suffered the highest rate of job losses over a five-month period since the 1982 recession. The overall unemployment rate is now at a seven-year high of eight per cent, and 357,000 jobs have been lost since October.

There's no surprise in the elevated youth unemployment rate compared to the rest of the population, since many people in this age range attend school. But according to the labour force survey, youth aged 15-24 make up about 15 per cent of the labour force and lost a quarter of all full-time jobs that have disappeared in the past year.

With summer approaching and graduates flowing out of universities and colleges looking for work, the grim numbers are unlikely to improve.

Economist Pedro Antunes said the youth unemployment figures are a reflection of how quickly the economy changed. During the recession in the 1990s, youth job losses weren't significant until late in the decade. This time, youth job losses happened within just a few months of October's market crash.

But the economist with the Conference Board of Canada said youth probably won't have to suffer as long this time.

"I think this slowdown is going to be temporary, it's going to be deep and hard-hitting, but I think if we look two or three years down the road, this is not going to be the 1990s over again."

The main reason is that baby boomers, who make up a large proportion of the work force, are reaching retirement age. While it's true that some people will delay retirement to try to recover savings they lost in October's stock market crash, this doesn't change the basic fact that young people will soon be needed to replace Canada's aging work force, said Antunes.

Bresee said he's confident he will get another engineering job eventually. But for now, travelling seems like a good way to wait for the job market to improve.

"When I come back, maybe things will be turned around, maybe not, but I doubt things will be a whole lot worse," he said.

And he's learned a lesson or two about managing his personal finances.

If he could do it over again, he would have been more careful about saving part of his paycheque instead of spending it on expensive electronics, furniture, and a trip to Las Vegas, he said.

"If I can get anything out of my experience in Sudbury, it was that I maybe need to be a little bit more responsible with my money.

"You never know when a recession like this is going to happen."

 
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