A letter to my daughter: Please don’t come home; there are no jobs for you
David Clark / September 16, 2015
You have been living away from home for five years now, and just one term away from completing your honours degree. I am very proud of you. You have done very well. Maybe a graduate degree is on your radar, or maybe entering the world of paid employment, or as we parents like to say, “getting a real job”!
Although I have missed you being around, and visits were never long enough, I don’t want you to move back here.
You see, there are very few employment opportunities for you.
As you know, this is a rural area with one very small city. There are very few good jobs here anymore which has been the case for a while now. The local and regional economies have become mostly low-skill, minimum wage, and part-time jobs. Local economic development seems to be successful in bringing ‘big box’ stores but not much else, at least not in numbers that will encourage youth to return after university. It is getting tougher for family-owned businesses to survive against the big boxes. But this is not to say that dreams of a healthier and more diversified local economy is not on the minds of citizens and politicians – it has been for many years – it is just not happening. There are some better jobs but competition is tough for those that exist. People just don’t leave the good jobs once they get them.
Many of your peers left the area for school too, and have not returned, mainly because the good jobs they have trained for are elsewhere. I watch the job ads for you, hoping there is something, but, alas, not much. Oh, there are jobs listed, but many are service jobs and low pay. Just the other day the local news reported that the regional unemployment rate rose compared with past months, and is at 6.1%. I fear the local rate is likely higher.
The better jobs for college and university grads are often in places where there are more vibrant social and cultural opportunities, too. Richard Florida talks about this in his books about the Creative Class. This was a good place to raise you, though. You had opportunities in school and sports that you might not have had in a big city, and you got to live in a great rural environment. I mean, the beach and the peninsula, fresh air, overall less pollution…..can it get much better!
As I said, many jobs are low-skill, low-wage, and part-time. It is interesting to note that you made more money in your co-op jobs than many people living here, who have been working for many years. In fact, you made about 50% more an hour and had full-time employment, albeit temporary. Recently the issue of a ‘living wage’ has been discussed. You know about a living wage, a wage based on the local costs of living as compared to a universal minimum wage. The city council was asked to endorse the concept but refused. The chamber of commerce, which represents the interests of business owners, spoke against a living wage in a recent editorial. One business, though, has taken a stand (and a risk) and pays its employees a living wage. (A few years back, the city, as part of its economic development strategy, promoted this area to potential businesses and industries as an ideal place to set up shop, because, in part, the area has lower wages. In its most recent recruitment booklet, the city still highlights lower wages of the area and the fact that we have a lower household income, compared to the province. That seems to be short-selling our citizens.)
I did some research based on the 2006 Canadian census data which shows that this area has a high rate of people living at low incomes, including those under age 18 years (children and youth). The region is slightly better than some other areas; unfortunately the city itself is well above for both over and under age 18.
Students who’ve attended the local college, and stay in the area, will be competing against many others who have the same training for the same jobs. There are not enough jobs for everyone in some fields. These students (like yourself), will have significant student debt upon graduation and getting a good job will be important to paying off the loan, and having a good income. A student, upon graduation, who gets only a minimum wage job, is able to take all of his or her earnings, and pay no other expenses, like rent and food, will take more than six months to pay off the loan, assuming it is about $10,000. In reality, it will take longer. Working at minimum wage, 40 hours a week his or her before taxes, monthly take-home will be about $1,650. The living wage, reflecting the actual cost of living in this area, is between $14 and $15 an hour which equals about $2,400 before taxes. The difference is a short-fall of $750 per month. It seems the loan will be very difficult to pay off, especially if they can not get full-time work.
But the reality is this seems to be a depressed area. As you know, I have continued to work past my hope-for retirement date because living costs keep going up (property taxes, food, utilities, maintenance, gas, etc.). Of course, it is not just me, but many seniors are in this situation. I am lucky to have a somewhat better than minimum wage job. Given I have college and three university degrees I could do much better if we lived elsewhere.
So, as much as I would love to see you move back, for your own future career opportunities, finding a good job, and earning a good income, please, do not come home. Stay in the city, you’ll do better.
P.S. Maybe when us seniors are finally able to fully retire some jobs might open up for you.