If you’re aged 15 or 50, if you work in retail, restaurants or really anything considered a “middle-class” job – you need to start panicking, like now…
You might be asking why, and here’s the long answer… The really long answer.
Our economy dictates that corporations, especially public ones, need to put shareholders first. This basically means that if a company isn’t trying to increase their stock price, or their income, then they run the risk of failure. This inherent drive to constantly and consistently increase profits, combined with the advancements we are making with technology, means that any job that is capable of being replaced with an iPad, will be (or the company will probably cease to exist). You might scoff at the notion that your barista, or your regular server, or your box-office ticket salesperson could ever be replaced by a touchscreen, but if you look hard enough you’ll begin to realize that this is already happening everywhere. Cineplex Odeon greets their guests with rows of touchscreen ticket booths, stores everywhere are creating self check-out lanes, and some restaurants even have conveyor belts that bring your food right to your table (after you order from your iPad of course). As technology becomes cheaper and minimum wages begin to increase, corporations will increasingly take advantage of these small investments to essentially remove the increasing costs of paying wages to humans – reducing their expenses, thereby increasing their profits and keeping their wealthy investors happy.
Hopefully by now you’re thinking, “holy crap, now I have to get another job” or “where is my child going to work?” because these questions highlight some serious issues occurring in our society today. The first is the issue of education and how our government, and in turn our citizens, relatively value education. The second issue is our current job market (or lack thereof). And finally the most important issue is that of the inherent need for earnings growth that is necessary for our economic system (capitalism), and in turn our corporations, to survive.
I’ve broken down these issues to try to explain them to the best of my ability.
Education is a tool that citizens use to escape poverty, because an educated citizen is supposedly more able to complete more complicated tasks. A friend of mine once explained to me his theory of how our education system taught us how to become workers, rather than citizens. His evidence was quite rightly justified in our behaviour towards those who reveal their degrees were in something “less useful” (like history, Canadian studies, or English). I am continuously finding myself hearing about how people don’t feel prepared for real life, how they don’t know how to do their taxes or fix their car, how they don’t know about loans or contracts, economics or government. Well, this causes us to lose control (or power) over our every-day lives, and alters our behaviour in such a way that allows us to be comfortable with trusting “those that know better” with the responsibilities of which we are uneducated in. This can lead to dangerous consequences, whether it be getting ripped-off by your mechanic, or duped into an unnecessary war in the middle-east.
So, why are we paying so much money to get a post-secondary education when we don’t even learn the “essentials”, and can’t get a job that uses our knowledge afterwards?
Well… that’s what our parents told us we needed to do, because that’s what they did, and look how successful they are, right?! Wrong. That is not the way to justify it. Look at the past, is it written in the history books that it was all sunshine and rainbows, and jobs and money and happiness for all? Hell no, its slavery and genocide and war and atrocity after atrocity. Its depression and recession, its boom and bust – there is no up without a down.
Canadian universities had their funding slashed in the early 1990’s by the federal government’s decision to cut transfer payments to the provinces, this caused universities to restructure in such a way to find funding from other sources. Lets all take a moment to think of a bountiful source of money that universities can leverage to their benefit… Students! Of course! Maybe that’s why by 2017 university tuition in Canada is expected to TRIPLE since 1990. So if university is so expensive, then we should be getting some sweet benefits after we invested so much right? Nope, the annual average unemployment rate in Canada has actually increased from 6.1% to 7.1% since the recession in 2008. A better statistic though is the employment rate in Canada, which has only risen from 59% to 62% from 1991 – 2012. The best statistic though is the employment rate breakdown by age: in 2012 54.5% of Canadians aged 15-24 were employed, compared to 81.6% of 25-44 year olds, and 71.3% of 45-64 year olds. You might read this and think that that looks about right, since there is an aging population in Canada, but these statistics are RATES (not percentages of the total population), they are percentages of each demographic. That means that you only really have about a 50% chance that your degree/diploma/sheet of paper will help you gain employment. Those aren’t the best odds for a 4-year, multi-thousand dollar investment. This has some serious sociological implications. The first being poverty – how can one expect to break the cycle of poverty if one cannot even use education to help raise their income? Secondly, when education is expressly stated to increase your future income it can cause an existential crisis for institutions when there are no jobs to validate this purpose. And lastly, this lack of return on investment helps to ensure that there is a continuing cycle of poverty, and decreases the perceived value of further education in all of our citizens.
So that kinda sucks, but it doesn’t really explain why there aren’t any jobs, I mean it’s not the universities’ fault, is it? Of course not, they don’t employ people.. Oh wait…… Basically there are no jobs because of two issues that compound to make one big storm. The first is that capitalism sucks, and we’re currently in a state of Neoliberalism; the second is that technology is advancing so quickly that it is becoming cheaper and cheaper to integrate into any business. So what’s Neoliberalism? The short sweet truth is that companies are becoming “too big to fail” by using two methods, mergers & acquisitions, and consolidation. The big corporations buy up smaller ones either to reduce competition or for their assets, or they downsize because they can use one factory to produce 7 products instead of just 1. That means less jobs for everyone, which is fine because that means less expenses for corporations, which means earnings growth, which means continuation of our great capitalist economy! Huzzah!… right?
Maybe, maybe not. Here’s where stuff gets kinda crazy… So companies are consolidating, but they’re still huge and are making more and more money each year, and many still don’t have a job. That doesn’t really make sense, since a company that is making more money should employ more people, right? Maybe share the wealth a bit with the people who actually need it?
On paper, in a capitalist system, companies rely on supply and demand to determine their prices, but prices don’t really change very drastically from what we’ve seen… You’d think you could buy a winter jacket for a couple bucks in the summer, but that’s not possible. This is because companies actually have control over supply and demand. At the moment, Canadian banks are estimated to have over-employment, by roughly 40,000 workers. When they lose their jobs, and income levels in Canada drop, prices do not drop in accordance. Corporations’ profit margins stay the same while we suffer because of their need to constantly grow their income. They continue to win, while we slowly lose. This helps our most wealthy focus on what they want to do, while the least wealthy attempt to focus on what they need to do amidst all the distraction and noise produced by the wealthy.
So how do we fix this mess? Simple. Get back to the behaviours that helped successfully build-up the human race to what it is today: cooperation. Teach the youth to help each other, teach them of the realities of our world so that they may accurately find their own meaning. Help education and employment work in tandem, instead of making education work towards employment. How can one know if they want to pursue a career in accounting if they have no experience until they have completed their investment in the education?
How can one know if there is even a need for their human capital in their discipline? Simple, properly measure the demand, and provide sufficient supply. If we all work together towards a goal of obtaining 0% unemployment rate, it can be attained. A free education allows for the removal of obsolete jobs because our citizens will have the ability to freely choose knowledge. A controlled economy removes overproduction and the goop that clogs our gears. A more organized society, directed towards the growing knowledge sector will provide everyone with the ability to lead more fulfilling lives, remove the advantages of greed, and allow for further development beyond anything we are capable of today.