After COVID, young families need our help

This article was originally published in the Vancouver Sun on May 24, 2020.

After the Great Recession, it took a decade for people under 25 to recover to pre-recession levels of employment. That “jobless recovery” may pale in comparison to the one to come.

COVID-19 has taken a heavy toll, but Canada has weathered the storm comparatively well. Rebuilding will be as hard, or harder. That effort needs to focus on people, especially young families.

Half the COVID-19 job losses in B.C. have been among people under 30; 38 per cent have been among people under 25. The Business Council of B.C. says 2020 will rank as the worst year for B.C.’s economy and job market in a century.

Just before the COVID-19 response kicked in, the Forum for Millennial Leadership (FML) commissioned a national opinion research study looking for ideas Canadians could agree on to make life better for young families.

Seventy-two per cent of Canadians agreed “government needs to stop chasing away investment and family-supporting jobs.” If ever there was a time for elected officials of all stripes to embrace economic development and create conditions for investment and jobs, it is now.

After the Great Recession, it took a decade for people under 25 to recover to pre-recession levels of employment. That “jobless recovery” may pale in comparison to the one to come.

Physical distancing accelerated trends that bring greater consumer convenience while making many entry-level jobs precarious or obsolete. Rapidly increased adoption of e-commerce and food delivery has hastened a storefront apocalypse that was already decimating Main Street businesses and entry-level jobs.

Young people will be returning to a diminished job market, with technological displacement accelerating and moving up the skill ladder. Precedent suggests they will make less money and be more likely to work in roles for which they are overqualified.

So what do we do? Here are a few common-sense ideas that our survey found most Canadians agree on.

Families in very different parts of Canada are held to the exact same income test for the Canada Child Care Benefit, which was topped up to help parents during COVID-19. That’s equal, but not equitable. Working parents in the urban and suburban clusters around Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal — the very places that have suffered the worst COVID labour market impacts — are at a disadvantage: 72 per cent of Canadians support adjusting the CCCB eligibility criteria to account for areas with higher living costs.

Canadians are united in wanting improved childcare, ideally near workplaces. Modernizing, expediting and simplifying permitting processes for new childcare facilities, without compromising on safety, is strongly supported and desperately needed in many jurisdictions.

Even before months of working from home shone a spotlight on the juggling act of working parents, 77 per cent of Canadians said we should encourage flexible and remote working arrangements for working parents; many support tax incentives for companies to do so; 73 per cent say we should implement tax measures to help parents working part time from home while raising children.

Some family tax policies simply don’t work for the entrepreneurs we are counting on to rebuild our economy: 76 per cent of Canadians say we should make sure childcare tax credits work for people in all different forms of employment.

Canadians have a strong appetite for helping families. That should not be mistaken for an endless appetite for big government spending. There are many opportunities for governments to make a difference without breaking the bank, and even more can be achieved by unlocking private sector and social sector innovation.

Young people struggling in the aftermath of COVID-19 will demand change, and business and political decision-makers would do well to take them seriously. In elections to come, Canadians will be asking themselves who they want leading them out of the wreckage of COVID-19.

With 63 per cent of Canadians saying politicians must do more to support young families to secure their vote, there’s no time like the present for our leaders and would-be leaders to prove their commitment to supporting Canadian families.

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