This is the first of a three-part blog series on precarious work. The second and third posts in the series will be published in the forthcoming weeks.
How many people do you know who are in their 20s or 30s, graduated from a post-secondary institution and are working at least one part-time job with no benefits? Can you even count?
The comments that spam my News Feed about the lazy work-ethic of Generation Y-ers are both boring and tiresome. Once upon a time, I used to differentiate between comments made by individuals belonging to an earlier generation and comments made by fellow Generation Y-ers. I no longer separate them because, frankly, I'm equally offended by both. While I can chalk up some opinions to ignorance, I now just interpret most as manifestations of privilege.
According to the Pew Research Center, millennials are on track to be the most educated generation to date. Frankly, I don’t think ignorance is the problem. I have never heard anyone over the age of 21 say, "Oh, investing the money in my RRSP is a good method to save for retirement? Wow, crazy that I've never heard of that before." Millennials aren’t completely oblivious to the money management tools that are available. The problem is that millennials can’t take advantage of these tools. Why? Because the traditional organization of work is dying.
What is “Precarious Work”?
In the most basic sense, precarious work is usually classified as seasonal, contract, part-time, casual or temporary employment. Despite variation amongst industries, there are usually common symptoms of precarious employment. You have no job security. You may need a second job to make ends meet. You may have to be “on call” and wait around to see if your employer will throw you a shift. You may not have benefits. Your employer may not offer a retirement plan. Your employer does not make you feel valued. If your employer fires you, you know they can find another worker to quickly replace you. You feel that if you report an injury or request a day off, your job may be in jeopardy. You feel that if you complain or assert your rights, your job may also be in jeopardy. There is little opportunity for advancement.
In February 2013, the United Way published a report titled, “It’s More than Poverty: Employment Precarity and Household Well-Being.” If you’re interested in the topic, I’ll let you read this on your own time. But here’s a few statistics that are particularly compelling on the rise of income equality in Toronto (taken directly from page 12):
- By 2010, the share of income going to the top 1% of earners nearly doubled to 12% of all income;
- Young workers are starting at a lower wage and they are not catching up as they progress their careers;
- In 1970, the average income in most Toronto neighbourhoods was within 20% of the average income in Toronto as a whole
- By 2005, there was an increase in the area of Toronto where average individual income was 40%+ above the average Toronto income
- There was also an increase in the area where average individual income was 40%+ below the average Toronto income
Torontonians Working Precarious Jobs
In 2011, only half of the employed people aged 25 – 65 in the Greater Toronto Area-Hamilton labour market had a permanent, full-time job with benefits;
Another 9% were in permanent part-time employment;
- When “precarious employment” is defined as temporary, casual, short-term, fixed-term, or self-employed without employees, it constitutes at least 18% of the Greater Toronto Area-Hamilton labour market;
- An additional 22% of the workforce is composed of people who have jobs that just fall short of a permanent, full-time job with benefits. This includes full-time workers who receive a wage, but no benefits;
- According to the Toronto Census Metropolitan Area (CMA), the number of people who describe their job as temporary increased by 40% from 1997 to 2011;
- New immigrants are more likely to be in precarious employment
It’s Not Just About Employment, It’s About Gainful Employment
I can’t speak to where you live, but only 50% of the workers over here aged 25 – 65 have a permanent, full-time job with benefits. This is unacceptable. In this environment, it’s tough what new post-secondary graduates are facing. It shouldn’t take years of part-time, minimum wage work to be able to obtain a full-time job with benefits. But now, that often sounds like the norm. And because of this reality, millennials are willing to accept anything and everything. Your boss asks you to stay past your shift because they’re busy, but he doesn’t compensate you for that additional time? That’s okay. Your boss cracks a few sexist jokes to you? He was just joking and you don’t want to cause any trouble. Your boss tells you that he doesn’t offer health care benefits? That’s fine, you're just lucky to have a full-time job.
Let's Not Forget About Student Loans
When you add another factor, crushing student debt, Generation Y-ers begin to pursue jobs that have higher salaries, but are completely meaningless to them. Understandably, graduates then become more inclined to suffer in silence in a job they hate just to afford a decent standard of living while paying down their loans for the next 5 – 10 years. The notion of a purposeful career falls to the wayside, as survival hogs the main stage. While the idea of “necessity” is something previous generations have also experienced, it has been within a completely different context. In 2017, it has become the norm to celebrate your 22nd birthday $60,000 in debt.
Some Of Us Need Help
There is nothing to be gained by smack-talking underemployed millennials. Hard work and delayed gratification do not guarantee financial success. There are people who do both on minimum wage and still, obviously, live paycheque to paycheque. Not to mention, attributing one's financial success exclusively to their work ethic completely overlooks all systemic barriers.
To clarify, I don’t think it’s necessarily wrong with encouraging characteristics like self-initiative, perseverance, and delayed gratification. I do, however, think it’s problematic when that message crosses into the realm of, “lazy, entitled and bad with money.” Talking smack to somebody who's already struggling is just cruel. Let’s help one another during these changing times. In solidarity, we can improve work conditions for everyone.