Sometimes it takes hard times to see the full scope of some of our issues in society. Sometimes it’s when outside forces bring about crisis that all the cracks are laid bare and exposed to the fullest extent. And when that happens, it can lead to some data that might not sit so well in the public consciousness, mixing topics or factors that we might not have considered going together. We got a really good example of that yesterday, coming from the fine folks at Blacklock’s Reporter, which the National Post shared. It’s an example that I don’t think many would have thought of going into this crisis, but the data around it is raising some views:
For starters, when I read this today, I have to admit I had mixed feelings about what it was saying, and I know I wasn’t alone in that feeling. This is not a “shoot the messenger” opinion on my part, because the journalists here simply asked a question with Access to Information requests. Yes, some people may take that data and jump to wild conclusions, but that doesn’t change the importance of the data and the journalists who brought it to light.
That aside, most of the discussion I’ve seen around this story over the last two days has fallen into one of two categories; either indignant that high school kids got CERB or a general understanding that it’s not a big deal that these kids got CERB. I would put myself clearly in the latter, but I have to admit seeing the reaction to this story from some in the former category left me feeling a bit cold. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.
The fact remains that youth have been among the hardest hit age groups in this pandemic and ensuing economic crisis. Statistics Canada data bears this all out pretty clearly. Between February and March of last year, 873,000 people between ages 15 and 24 lost their jobs. By April, another 385,000 lost all or most of their hours. That’s close to $1.3 million youth being hit hard. For those between ages 15 to 19, they saw a more than 40 % drop in employment over this period. The idea that only 300,000 teenagers applied when so many more lost work and hours is what is surprising to me. I’m sure that far more than that were eligible for the CERB, and I’d be curious to see how the rate of participation of teens was compared to other age cohorts.
But that’s only one side of the story here, because most of those angry takes come from people who seem to believe that somehow either the work that these teens lost wasn’t worth compensating or that somehow because these are teenagers or are in high school, that somehow, they don’t need help. Those in that angry category assume that these are kids taking advantage of a situation, gaming government in the process, which I have to admit is what probably bothers me the most of these assumptions. The fact is that in order for those teens to be eligible for the CERB, they had to have earned money and lost wages. Since when did we make judgements about one age groups similar wages being more or less worthy than the same wages of another age group? What crap.
But even worse is the fact that the situations for every teen, like with every adult, is quite different. For a lot of kids those part-time jobs aren’t a “nice to have” thing. They aren’t a past time that they do in order to make pocket money to mess around with. For many of those teens, they are trying to save to go to college, university or trades school. Many of those teens’ parents don’t have the means to help their kids by paying for their full tuition and housing for however many years they need. Some can afford some, many can afford none and some of those teens won’t be eligible for government student loans. So they work, yes, they work while in high school, to try to save for their own education. Surely those kids who lost that income over the last year should be made whole again, like any other person who is doing similar, right?
Those kids though are maybe in the luckier category, as there are many others facing more difficult situations then that. How many of those teens live in homes where their parents don’t make much or have a parent who lost a job? How many of those teens maybe live with a single parent trying to support the family or a grandparent living on less? Many of those teens are not working to make movie money, they’re working to make rent money, utilities money, grocery money, any money they can to help support their families through these hard times. And they are doing that all while trying to get their basic education and hopefully have better for their families down the road. Are these kids supposed to be punished and not be made whole because they are only in their teens? Is a 25-year-old who helps pay their parents rent more worthy of CERB than a 15-year-old doing the same?
Those are the very real situations that this other group never see, because in their eyes these teens don’t work for real things. It’s all about paying for movies, or to buy a new video game, or whatever crap to splurge on. They don’t see the work that these teens do as valuable, they don’t see the wages they earn as worthy and instead of seeing hard working fellow citizens, they instead decide to make malign judgements instead. And yeah, that bothers me when I see it.
And that’s why this is a prime example of how broken parts of our system really are. Yes, for years we’ve had households depending on their teen kids wages to work. Yes, the social safety net has not been there to ensure that these kids only have to worry about their studies and not about if their family will eat tonight. Post-secondary studies have become more expensive and less accessible, leaving students who want to pursue their dreams to have to save as much as they can, if only in the hope of limiting the amount of crushing debt they might have to take on to pay for those studies.
In the best of times, those problems have always been there but when times get worse like these come, they get worse. They come flooding to the surface, as those who were struggling to get by can no longer keep their heads above water, all through no fault of their own. If we believe that workers in other sectors who have been hurt economically through no fault of their own, who have lost jobs, hours and wages, surely that show not come with the asterisk of age. If those who see this data and cry foul are truly enraged about how we ended up here, I hope that coming out of this crisis they will be near the front of the line calling for a better social safety net going forward. But if they are only upset because they judge the work of teenagers to be unworthy, well I hope they pray that others don’t make similar judgements of their work when they need the help. This should be a time for compassion, not anger or accusations. We’re supposedly in this all together, but when I see angry comments at stories like those, it’s a sad reminder that we might not be, or at least that some peoples’ definitions of “all” are disturbingly different.