Rob Carrick

Young adults have a right to be up in arms

The Globe and Mail

Students hold flags during a march to protest against tuition hikes in downtown Montreal, Quebec April 28, 2012. (CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS/CHRISTINNE MUSCHI/REUTERS)

Talk to your kids before you dismiss those Quebec student demonstrators as a bunch of spoiled malcontents.

Even if they’re not on their way into the streets to protest rising university tuitions, young adults have some legitimate grievances about the growing financial divide between them and the older generation.

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Think about jobs – more people are expected to remain in the work force after age 65, which means less opportunity for recent graduates to find their first career-building position.

Think about housing – the baby boomers bought up all the cheap houses and now it’s prohibitively expensive to buy in some big cities.

Think about social programs – Old Age Security is being preserved untouched for today’s seniors by taking benefits away from younger Canadians, and we haven’t yet seen what changes will be required to our health care system as the population ages.

The Quebec demonstrations can’t be dismissed as simply an example of the province’s strong tradition of social activism, and neither are they the actions of selfish youths who aren’t satisfied with the lowest post-secondary tuitions in North America. What’s going on in the province is a fight by twentysomethings to be heard by governments that seem to have little interest in them.

As our population ages, young adults are increasingly being marginalized in a demographic sense. And they’ve never been much of a force politically. It’s no wonder, then, that politicians have little or nothing to say about the growing economic divide. You don’t win an election addressing that issue.

Tuition fees are the gateway problem for today’s young people in a financial sense. Some argue that cutting tuition only benefits well-off families because they’re the only ones who can afford to send their kids to university or college. Maybe so, but the net result of tuition costs at current levels is that, according to the Canadian Federation of Students, the average debt for university graduates is almost $27,000. At today’s interest rates for student loans, it would cost a grad a hefty $530 a month to pay that debt off over five years.

Large student debts would be both tolerable and fair in an economy where graduates can get on with their careers fairly quickly. But, anecdotally at least, this doesn’t seem to be the case. A quick summary of stories I’ve heard from recent graduates since my new book, How Not To Move Back In With Your Parents: A Young Person’s Guide to Financial Empowerment, was published last month:

  • The only jobs I can find are unpaid internships.
  • The job I have doesn’t pay me enough to take care of my student loans and afford my own apartment.
  • All I can get are short-term contracts.
  • I’m competing for jobs against people who are way overqualified.

I spoke with Zach Dayler, national director of the Canadian Alliance of Student Associations (CASA), in researching this column. He mentioned that his organization recently posted an opening for an entry-level policy and research analyst. People with law and master’s degrees are applying.

Once they land a job, the dream of home ownership lives strong in today’s young adults. Unfortunately, the flip side of all the money made in housing by baby boomers is sky-high prices for first-time buyers. It’s easy to say these buyers should suck it up and wait their turn, but that means enduring the older generation’s advice that renting is the dumbest financial move ever (actually, it’s buying a house you can’t properly afford).

One reason for pessimism in the outlook for twentysomethings is that governments are cutting both jobs and spending. Part of the government’s rationale is that it must prepare for the financial needs of the aging baby boom generation. The last federal budget announced a reform of OAS that will gradually raise the age of eligibility to 67 from 65 starting in 2023. People 54 and older are untouched by the changes. These are the very same retirees who in many cases binged on debt, neglected their retirement savings and thus will have to stay in the work force longer. Twentysomethings, get a load of your new competitors in the job market – mom and dad.

So why haven’t more kids been demonstrating like those Quebec students? Mr. Dayler, of CASA, said students in other provinces are accustomed to tuition increases and the idea that a post-secondary education means going into debt. The anger is there, however. “Just ask most young people what they think of their political representatives.”

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The Canadian Federation of Students estimates the average debt for university graduates is almost $27,000. Here's an example of the cost and length of time it might take to repay this amount.



Loan Payback Period 10 Years

5 Years

Total Debt

$27,000

$27,000

Interest rate

5.5%

5.5%

Monthly payment

$301

$530

Total interest payable

$8,387

$4,052

Total amount payable

$36,129

$31,795

Notes

-a floating rate loan at prime+2.5 percentage points is used for this example

-an assumption is made here that the student will take advantage of a six-month repayment grace period after graduation (interest accrues during that period and is added to the amount owing)

Source: CanLearn.ca