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Young people in B.C. face future of inherited challenges

Charlotte Hodges, 16, volunteers in the Wet Lab programs at the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Centre.

DARRYL DYCK/The Globe and Mail

British Columbia has no shortage of young innovators who are starting companies, dreaming up inventions and advocating for other young people here at home and abroad – but one observer notes that they face a future of inherited challenges, including a competitive job market, soaring tuition and the elusive dream of homeownership.

A recent series by the Globe's B.C. bureau profiled young people 20 and younger doing great things in a wide range of fields. They included 20-year-old Elan Jonas-McRae, a competitive climber with an eye on the 2020 Olympic Games in Tokyo, which is looking to add the sport; Madeleine Liu and Angela Wang, 16-year-old inventors who are developing cutlery that can detect nutrients and allergens in food; and 19-year-old Diego Cardona, a vocal advocate for young immigrants and refugees.

Paul Kershaw is a policy professor at the University of British Columbia's School of Population Health and the founder of Generation Squeeze, an organization that advocates for young Canadians. He says the profiles show that young people in British Columbia are "bright, intelligent, thoughtful and devoted" – and go against the persistent stereotype that millennials are lazy or entitled.

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However, the under-20 cohort will face a number of inherited challenges, such as B.C.'s competitive job market and soaring real-estate prices.

"Notwithstanding just how excellent these individuals are, and the great contributions they are making to our community, they do inherit a standard of living that is so much more challenging for a young adult today," Prof. Kershaw said.

"In 1974, it took a typical 25-to 34-year-old five years, in Canada, to put a 20-per-cent down payment on an average home. Now, it's 12 years, on average, across the country. In Metro Toronto, it's 15 years; in B.C. it's 16 years; in Metro Vancouver it's 23 years. It's really jumped over the last 20 years."

There were 897,750 children in B.C. in 2011, according to the B.C. government. That figure is estimated to grow to 953,000 by 2025. The fastest-growing population demographic is aboriginal youth.

Six-year completion rates – the number of students who graduate high school within six years of registering for Grade 8 – remained steady at 84 per cent in the 2014-15 school year, according to the B.C. Ministry of Education. Aboriginal completion rates reached an all-time high of 63 per cent in 2014-15 compared with 54 per cent in 2010-11.

About 53 per cent of B.C. students enrolled in postsecondary education within a year of leaving high school in 2012-13, the most recent year for which there are data available. The rate was about the same in the previous five years and only slightly higher than a decade earlier.

The proportion of Grade 12 graduates considered "high achievers" – with GPAs of 75 per cent or higher – has also stayed relatively stable, with 34 per cent of students fitting that description in 2012-13 compared with 32 per cent four years earlier. About two-thirds of those high-achieving students go on to a postsecondary institution within a year of graduation, according to statistics from the Ministry of Advanced Education.

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Prof. Kershaw's Generation Squeeze is building a national lobby in efforts to give Canadians in their 40s and younger to draw attention to issues particularly affecting young people, such as soaring housing prices, tuition and climate change.

"For decades, the Canadian Association of Retired Persons has been lobbying on behalf of those age 50 and older; it's why we spend over $33,000 a year per person over 65 on fundamentally important things we want to protect, like medical care and income security in retirement," Prof. Kershaw said. "But in comparison, we spend less than $12,000 a year per person under 45.

"Politics responds to those who organize and show up. If we don't have a corresponding group working to build the clout of younger Canadians, we will forever have imbalance in the way that our budgets play out."

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About the Author
News reporter

Based in Vancouver, Andrea Woo is a general assignment reporter with a focus on multimedia journalism. More


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