TORONTO—Baby boomers are often criticized for many of today’s economic woes, from creating the national debt to driving up tuition costs.
But studies are discounting one of the biggest complaints—that boomers lingering in their jobs are holding up the employment of the next generation.
“(Boomers) do take up a large part of the workforce, but there’s absolutely no evidence that they’re crowding out jobs that otherwise would be filled by young people,” said Tammy Schirle, an economics professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“The unemployment rates of youth right now look about normal. A lot of what we hear from young people today is really just based on their expectation, as opposed to this being some unusual period that might relate to what’s going on with another group of workers.”
According to Statistics Canada, the unemployment rate for youth aged 15 to 24 was 13.7 per cent in 2013, down from 15.2 per cent in 2009.
That may seem high when you consider that for those aged 25 to 44, the unemployment rate in 2013 was six per cent, down from 7.4 per cent in 2009.
But it’s important to note that before the recession hit in 2008, unemployment rates weren’t all that different for youth.
In 2007, the rate stood at 11.2 per cent, and it was only slightly lower in 1989 at 10.9 per cent.
Overall, the current rate for youth unemployment is within historical averages and is down from a high of 19.2 per cent in 1983, which was the highest unemployment rate for youth since 1976.
Many Gen Y workers—those born between the 1980s to early 2000s—were just unlucky when it came to timing.
They left high school and entered university in 2006 and 2007, when unemployment rates were near record lows, and well before the downturn in 2008 created tougher labour conditions for everyone.
The job rebound may be slower than many well-educated and eager grads would like, but the labour market and the economy have a way of adapting, as they did when women first entered the workforce and encountered a similar backlash.
“The idea was that all these women were going to come along and take up the jobs that men needed and were going to be crowding them out, and that just never happened,” Schirle said.
“It was that idea that there was some fixed number of jobs and that they had to go to a certain group of people. But that wasn’t the case. The economy more generally grew, the structure of jobs changed.”
A 2012 study from the Centre for Retirement Research at Boston College in the United States found that the greater number of older persons employed led to better outcomes for the young, including reduced unemployment and a higher wage.
The study looked at what is known at the “lump of labour” theory, a hypothesis that dates back to 1851, and suggests that if a group enters the labour market—or remains past their traditional retirement age—others will be unable to find jobs or be given fewer hours.
But the Boston study concluded that there was no “consistent evidence that changes in the employment rates of older workers adversely affect the employment and wage rates of their younger counterparts.”
“If anything,” it said, “the opposite is true.”
As older people stay in labour force, the college said, they are not only workers, but also consumers.
The income they earn helps boost consumption, increase demand for goods and services, and in turn, create job opportunities for the young.
Lauren Friese, founder of TalentEgg.ca, a job and career resource website for students and recent graduates that also works closely with employers, says graduating from university and college and entering the workforce has always has been a challenging transition.
While graduates may find it a little more difficult to find work after graduation right now, she said, things tend to eventually work out for the students she deals with.
And the argument that pits younger and older workers against each other isn’t helpful, she added.
“There are so many other things that are happening that have changed youth employment (and) that are probably more productive to discuss, because the retirement age is not something you can change,” Friese said.
She said employers’ perception of Gen Y workers are lazy or entitled, as well as a tendency for employers to compete for a handful of graduates from select universities are larger problems for young workers.
If some work could be done to change employers attitudes on those fronts, she said, it would improve youth’s chances of employment.
Judith Leary-Joyce, 64, runs a business consulting company out of the United Kingdom and as well as a blog called The Second Act, which encourages women to share their stories about how they have thrived as they’ve grown older.
She says that while she’s seen a lack of respect for older people in the past, the current generation of young people see the value of learning from the boomers, an age group that is now healthier, stronger and productive for much longer than ever before.
“There’s so much wisdom in very dynamic active people who are absolutely not ready to kick back and relax and play in life,” Leary-Joyce said.
“It’s not right that we don’t share that. For me, it’s a sense of giving back now (and) I’m not prepared to stop helping.”