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Sophie Bifield had a slower path towards a career after graduating from university. At 23, brimming with enthusiasm, new university graduate she hit the ground running in search of a full-time job. But 18 months later, after contacting more than 300 employers, the Queen's University psychology major was unemployed and disillusioned, her dream of a career in marketing derailed by the global economic crisis. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)
Sophie Bifield had a slower path towards a career after graduating from university. At 23, brimming with enthusiasm, new university graduate she hit the ground running in search of a full-time job. But 18 months later, after contacting more than 300 employers, the Queen's University psychology major was unemployed and disillusioned, her dream of a career in marketing derailed by the global economic crisis. (Fred Lum/Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail)

Gary Mason

What's the matter with kids today? Well, no jobs, no money … Add to ...

One of my son's friends who graduated from the University of British Columbia last spring with a business degree has been looking for work. He's applied everywhere, in search of something even remotely connected to his area of study. No luck.

So now this bright, educated 22-year-old who got solid grades has begun sticking flyers through people's mail slots offering his services to do odd jobs, anything to put a few bucks in his pocket.

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My own 24-year-old is hoping to head to graduate school next fall. He knows there's nothing out there for a kid with a degree in psychology. My 21-year-old, meantime, is finishing his undergrad at Queen's this spring and simply accepts there are more years left of school before he's somehow qualified for today's job market.

What's remarkable is how upbeat my kids and their friends remain despite the raw deal they're getting. There aren't nearly the opportunities for young people today as there once were, a fact highlighted in the government's recent labour force survey.

In November, the youth (15 to 25) unemployment rate dropped to 13.6 per cent from 15 per cent the previous month. But the figure is misleading and doesn't reflect the fact that the number of kids looking for work is far fewer. While the economy has created 440,000 jobs since the recession, there are 228,000 fewer young people employed, according to a recent story by The Canadian Press.

"A lot of young people are throwing in the towel, saying forget it," Brian Bethune, chief Canadian economist with IHS Global Insight, is quoted as saying. "There's an intergenerational imbalance happening. You have a big bulge of baby boomers who have gotten into established positions, entitled to three and four weeks vacation, and young people can't find jobs."

Maclean's magazine recently explored this phenomenon in a cover story titled Generation Screwed. It's a chilling portrayal of the absolute mess boomers have not only created for the millennial generation (those born in 1980 or later) but seem destined to leave behind for others to clean up.

Our kids could be a lost generation, but boomers don't seem too worried about it. They're otherwise occupied, racking up obscene and unsustainable levels of debt on vacations and houses they can't afford. Meantime, many don't have a realistic financial plan to retire so, instead, figure they'll work past 65, thus ensuring that jobs won't be opening up for others.

Even when the boomers begin retiring in big numbers, the news won't be good. Growth in the work force is expected to slow and GDP shrink. Canada's Parliamentary Budget Officer, Kevin Page, has already started to sound the alarm about this demographic dilemma - but he concedes no one is listening.

The C.D. Howe Institute, meantime, estimates that aging baby boomers are going to cost Ottawa and the provinces $1.5-trillion in extra health and pension expenses over the next 50 years. It's almost certainly going to mean higher taxes for young people, who are going to have to help shoulder a big part of that load.

Students, meanwhile, are graduating from universities with record debt. The average amount for a typical undergrad in Canada is $27,000, more than double the average of 20 years ago. And when they do graduate, there are few jobs, a fact that's forcing many to seek a graduate degree - thus burdening them with even more student loans.

No wonder twentysomethings are putting off marriage and kids and buying a house. They're just worried about surviving, which often means sleeping in the same bedroom they grew up in because they're still living at home. Young people all over the world are postponing their dreams.

If youth unemployment and the bleak prospects for an entire generation isn't a crisis, I don't know what is. Yet, governments seem blind to what's going on or unwilling, at least, to divert their attention away from the needs of whining boomers who have all that voter clout.

So, for now, many of our university grads will have to content themselves with cleaning gutters for a living - if they're lucky.

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

 

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