Very often, I find myself wondering just what goes through the mind of a Conservative Cabinet Minister before they open their mouths. Clearly, given Jim Flaherty's latest gaffe, the thought process is either incredibly short or non-existent.
In speaking about the job market, Flaherty went on to say that there is no such thing as a bad job. He further put his foot in his mouth by saying that there are a lot of jobs out there, and that Canadians need to take jobs that they consider 'beneath them'.
Surprisingly, Flaherty is right about Canadians not taking jobs that are below them. The problem is that his reasons for thinking those jobs are below Canadians are not sound. As it stands, Flaherty is suggesting that the unemployed in Canada are snobby people who are not willing to work hard and take any job that is open for them.
But this is not the case, and I shall use my own life as an example.
I graduated in 2009 from the University of Saskatchewan. I had gone to college with the understanding that it would open doors and guarantee a career once I was done. But of course, 2009 was one of the epoch years of the economic downturn; and not a very good time to graduate from college. As such, careers in my field seemed to be in a lull and I was left looking for work for very long time.
And yes, it is true, there were certain jobs that I didn't consider applying for. But it wasn't for that fact that I thought those jobs were below me as a college graduate, but rather that those jobs did not provide a living wage.
Take the fast food industry, for example. Making minimum wage, and working forty hours a week, a person would make $380 per week. Times that by four weeks a month, and you are looking at $1,520 a month, before taxes. Now, consider the essential payments that a person would make in a given month.
If you are unfortunate enough to be renting your living space at the time, you rent could be as high as $800 a month. That means you have about $750 for other expenses prior to taxes. Let's factor in a cost of about $120 for groceries for the month; as well as $75 for telephone and internet services; a cost of $80 for power; and $250 in interest payments on student loans, just the interest no payment towards the principal.
That leaves $195 from your monthly paycheque for other expenses, from entertainment to emergency expenses. and anyone who has ever had an emergency expense, let's say a flat tire, can tell you that a spare $195 to your name is not a whole heck of a lot. Even worse, once you consider taxes, EI deductions and other costs on your paycheque, that $195 surplus is going to dwindle even more.
Simply put, a job where you make minimum wage is not enough to cover the actual living expenses of someone who has $40,000 or more in student loan debt.
To cap it off, Flaherty has a gall to add the next part to his argument: That people should be moving where the jobs are.
Above, I showed how someone with only $40,000 in debt would have a hard time living while making only minimum wage in a 'booming' province like Saskatchewan. So now, Flaherty is telling people to abandon the life they have in other provinces and move to new ones instead.
Let's examine how that doesn't work.
As previously mentioned, some rents in Saskatchewan hover around the $800 mark; while others are considerably higher. Not to mention the problem of vacancy rates; consider Regina that has had a vacancy rate hovering around the 1% and lower mark. Despite the idea that there are jobs in Regina, there certainly isn't affordable housing.
So, Flaherty's answer to people who are already in debt and getting deeper, is to get further in debt by undertaking a move across province lines in the hopes of getting a job.
While people might be able to find employment in other provinces, are they going to be able to find housing? Are they going to be able to actually work and get their way out of debt, or are they going to barely keep their head above water one emergency away from financial ruin?
And that brings me to the crux of this argument: Flaherty used a very telling choice of words when he told unemployed Canadians to suck it up and take whatever job you can get; by using the word job, Flaherty has implicitly conceded that the vast majority of Canadians who are currently unemployed are not going to find careers.
As I've mentioned before, careers and jobs have very different meanings. Jobs are the sort of thing we do to gain experience as a bridge to a career. Jobs are a stepping stone, and are meant to be a way of improving our skills and forging connections that allow us to transition into a permanent career. Careers are things that pay above minimum wage, offer benefits (health insurance/dental/optical, retirement plans) and allow a person to pay down their debts while allowing enough financial fluidity that a single major emergency won't break the bank.
Careers are disappearing in this economy, and now our finance minister is telling Canadians that they need to bend over, close their eyes, think of Canada, and take the nearest thing resembling employment they can find.
Implicitly, Flaherty has admitted some defeat in the turn about of Canada's economy. While he won't come out and say it, Flaherty is telling us that this is now the new normal for the average Canadian. Gone are the days where a person who has worked towards improving their lives through college and professional development can find a career with financial security. Instead, regardless of the steps taken, a person is now doomed to forever dwell in the lower rungs of the economy.
This is not about someone thinking a job is below them. This is not about someone being unwilling to take a job because it is in the service industry, or involves labour. This is about people realizing that these jobs will not give them the financial security they need to both pay off their debts and move ahead with their lives. Basically, a person will languish between a choice of paying down their debts or being able to live comfortably.
This is not a choice that someone should have to make in 21st Century Canada.
Finally, I also want to touch on the bias of employers before I end this blog post. I've lived this, so I'd like to think I know what I am talking about. There is an implicit understanding that employers are hesitant to take chances on certain people entering the economy. This includes young people and college graduates, especially in a sector of the economy that they aren't trained for.
If you had a choice between hiring a former retiree who will work for your company for the next five years; or a college grad, who is likely only looking for a job until they land their career and may only work with your company for a year at most, who would you hire?
These are the things that conservatives like to forget about the economy; that there are standards in the background that we all are aware of, but that people don't really acknowledge. There is a hiring bias and it is indeed affecting people looking to get involved in the economy, especially recent graduates. As mentioned above, businesses who have applicants that are trained in other areas, know that this person is not going to work for them forever.
May as well overlook them, and leave them unemployed, in favour of hiring someone who will work for you for a longer period of time. And you counter this by creating an intelligent economy where people who have gone to university are able to find the careers that they spent the last four years or more studying for.
By creating low level economy jobs, you are leaving people trained for higher economy jobs out in the cold as employers will continue to have an implicit bias about hiring them due to the longevity of their employment. And yet, the Conservatives think that adding only service industry jobs is the answer to stemming unemployment numbers, especially the skyrocketing numbers for those between the ages of 18 and 25.
But the truth is that it is doing nothing to help those people, especially if they are college graduates.
And until we learn to foster an intelligent economy, these people will continue to fall through the cracks. While there may be no thing as a bad job according to Jim Flaherty, we're starting to see a Canada where there's no such thing as a career either.