Tuesday 15 October 2013

Why Should YOU Care About Gen Y's Underemployment and (lack of) Income?

My last post was an Open Letter to George Stroumboulopoulos, which was re-blogged on Riotwire.com and I have to say, I was very surprised by the response. I've never had anything go viral(ish) before, and was absolutely thrilled that the issue resonated with so many readers!

...But, there were internet comments... and although everyone knows not to read comments on the internet, I couldn't help myself. Now, while the majority of the commenters were either in agreement, or were shocked at the statistics and were now in agreement...there is always the voice of non-reason echoing through the tubes of the internet.

There were a substantial number of readers who brought up the following concept:

"Why shouldn't young people work for free?" 

...And I thought those people deserved an answer. Our first step is to ignore the fact that unpaid labour is illegal, now, let's answer the question by looking at the larger picture... THE ECONOMY (dun dun dunnnnn!):
Make it rain, eh!

Generation Y, the Millennials, or dirty hipsters are basically me & my ilk...aka, those born between 1978 and 1995. We are the children of the Baby Boomers, and, compared to our parents at our age, we are not making money. Why is that? Well, according to (many) people on the internet, it's because we are lazy, or entitled, or narcissistic, or maybe all of those charming qualities together...

I would posit, that we aren't making money because we are entering the workforce during a recession, a time when Canada has the 8th lowest corporate tax rate (and they aren't giving anything back), when there is an unregulated market for unpaid labour, and more importantly, at a time where the money is being/has been shifted to a smaller section of the population (remember that whole 1% thing?)...

"So what?" - cry those born between 1946 and 1964

...But, the reality is, those who are dead set on deriding our generation don't care about the why... and they won't care until it affects them.

...and it definitely will.

Let's begin:

Generation Y is not buying cars. 
In 2011, boomers were 15 times more likely to purchase new vehicles than young millennials (ages 18 to 24), and even consumers ages 75 and up have been buying cars at higher rates than groups ages 18 to 24 and 25 to 34.
It's true, and it's bad news...I'll get back to it. In the meantime, let's do a little case study:

I was born in 1985, and am currently 28 years old. I am a Millennial. My father, a Baby Boomer, was born in 1954, and was 28 in 1982.

In 1982, Canada was in recession, in 2013, Canada is recovering from a recession. In 1982, youth unemployment was at 18.1%, in 2013 youth unemployment is 17.1%.

But this is pretty much where the similarities stop.

At 28, my dad was recently married, had been renting for four years, and was looking to buy his first house. I am 28, recently married, and entering my eighth year of renting in downtown Toronto with no chance of affording a house in the foreseeable future. In 2007, my final year of undergraduate university tuition $4700, compared to my dad's $400/yr in 1976.

"Aha! What about inflation!" You cry.

Well, let's look into that... Using this Bank of Canada calculator, we can compare 1976 dollars to 2013 dollars...

This means that my tuition should have been $1573.16...over $3000 less than what I paid...per year.


And it gets worse...In 1976, minimum wage was $2.76/hr, so my dad could earn a year of university tuition "flipping burgers" after only 144.9 hours, or a little under 4 weeks, full time; the classic "summer job". With today's tuition, I would have to work 458.5hrs (at Ontario's current $10.25/hr minimum wage)...working out to approximately 11 weeks, full time.

Well, maybe minimum wage hasn't kept up?

Actually, it's pretty comparable from 1976 to 2013, ($2.76/hr to $10.25/hr) ending up only $0.60/hr lower than what inflation would predict.

Now, all those lovely bits of data, what do they mean to YOU?

They mean that Gen Y is absolutely paying more for education today than the Boomers or Gen X did, and the opportunity to pay those faster-than-inflation-tuition-increases does not exist anymore...there is no "flipping burgers for the summer" anymore, and so, we take on debt.

Gen Y is carrying the highest student debt in Canadian history, averaged at $24,579 by Simon Fraser University.

That means Canada's youngest workers are starting out behind where their parents did, regardless of how many summer jobs they worked in university.

...But back to cars. Gen Y isn't buying cars, and that is bad. Cars mean manufacturing jobs in Canada, they mean independent businesses in the form of dealers, financing, auto repair, etc. Cars mean more money in our economy...So why isn't Gen Y buying them?
  • Maybe they are too expensive?
Well, in 1982, the suggested retail price for a Honda Civic was $4,799.00. So the current price should be around $10,625.12.

...But the price in 2013 is $15,440, over $4500 higher, even adjusted for inflation... and with the cost of gas rising from roughly $0.33/L in 1982 to $1.24 in 2012, not mention the average insurance cost in the GTA is $1500/yr, how can a population with high unemployment and low wages hope to invest in a vehicle?

Well, let's make a monthly budget for a young Toronto couple on minimum wage and see how likely it is they can put money into the economy (using Toronto's costs of living, the CAAStats Canada, and some previously mentioned sources):
  • Income A: $1624
  • Income B: $1624
    • Income = $3248.00 
  • Rent (outside city centre): $1000.00
  • Cell phone (x2 people): $100.00
  • Internet: $50.00
  • Car payment: $170
  • Car insurance: $125.00
  • Gas: $128
  • Groceries: $300
  • Debt repayment (based on 2 people with average student debt to OSAP): $548
    • Basic expenses = $2421.00

That leaves our hypothetical couple with only $827 per month for entertainment, savings, medical expenses & medication, clothing, emergency funds, and any other "non essential" expenses.

No wonder we aren't buying cars...

That budget leaves no room for things like dentistry, eye care, or even credit card debt... Which brings me to my next point, according to two TD surveys (1, 2), Millennials are:

  • Not paying their credit card balance in full at the end of the month (51%)
  • Making only the minimum monthly payment (40%)
  • Missing a monthly payment (23%)
  • Using their credit card to supplement their income (18%)
  • Routinely maxing out one credit card and needing another as backup (14%)
  • 34% admit they find it an almost impossible struggle to save
  • Finding their salaries too low to cover living expenses (39% of Gen Y versus 30% of Boomers)
  • Paying debts from credit cards, loans and lines of credit (38% of Gen Y versus 26% of Boomers)

What does this mean for the Baby Boomers? (and here's where you guys should really start to care about the underemployment of your children...) Let me ask you a question:

How much of your equity is tied into property you own? How many of you are planning on selling property to fund your retirements?

...we won't be buying your houses.

That isn't a threat, that's a reality. The average cost of a house in the GTA in 1982 was $95,496. As of 2012 that had risen to $497,301...but in accordance with inflation, that should be closer to $209,198... That's almost $300k of magical money. No bank is going to give someone earning $1624/month a mortgage on a house that costs nearly $500k.

"Maybe it's just because they have low-paying jobs?"

Even those of us with "grown up" jobs and not conned into unpaid internships are feeling the hit of corporate greed through the abuse of the "independent contractor" label. The CRA defines an independent contractor as someone who (among other qualifiers) sets their own hours, uses their own equipment, is able to accept or refuse work from their client, etc. Now, let me tell you about my last job, a "real" job in the television industry...
  • Worked 40 hrs/week
  • Worked 5 days a week for 4 years
  • At their office
  • On their hours
  • With their equipment
  • Was (definitely) not allowed to refuse tasks assigned to me
They labelled me, their only employee, as an independent contractor. This meant, despite working for 4 years, full time:
  • No holiday pay
  • No health benefits
  • Not eligible for EI
And most importantly:
  • Told by my bank that they would not give me a mortgage, despite my full-time/multi-year wage.
The worst part? They were right to do so. My employer decided to shut down and relocate the business, I was given 2 weeks notice I would be losing my job of four years, was not allowed to collect EI, and was not eligible for any kind of severance... If I had been paying a mortgage...well, you can guess the outcome.

Fig 1

Now, what does this mean for the Boomers? It means, that as they retire and look to downsize/relocate/cash-out on their home equity, Gen Y will not have the capital, nor the support of the banks to buy those houses at their current prices...

Effect? Market floods, prices drop. Generation X finds themselves with negative equity on their mortgages, good chance of foreclosure...

Basically, shitty all 'round. (see Fig 1)

One solution is for the government to begin a controlled rise in interest rates lowering housing prices, Generation X is still at risk for finding themselves over-extended, but with government involvement we potentially have the ability to create safety nets and tax incentives.

Another solution is the Boomers decide to will their properties to their children; Gen Y. We get a foothold in the world of home equity, and the prices don't plummet from a flooded marketplace... yeah right, try advocating for that solution when they already love the image of us as entitled and lazy...

Herp derp, entitlement!
Whatever the popular vision of Gen Y, the fact is, the Boomers are not going to get the money they want out of their properties. No one can afford them, and it has nothing to do with old ideas of lazy youth or "kids today".

“Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”
― Socrates

The world of 2013 is massively different from the one my father grew up in, the old policies and ideas don't work anymore, and we need to find solutions. Economics are more complicated than "young people suck", and harder to solve than ranting "the Boomers stole my future"!

What we, as Canadians, and as human beings should care about, is 27% of our population is going to be, for the first time in our country's history, poorer than their parents...and to assume those economic realities won't resonate through both the older and younger generations is not only foolish, it's dangerous.

Thursday 10 October 2013

An Open Letter to George Stroumboulopoulos Regarding Interns

Dear George,

I caught your show last night, (George Stroumboulopoulos Tonight, season 4, Ep 17) and my interest was definitely piqued by the panel section (approximately 14min and 40sec for you following along at home). You decided to tackle the issue of unpaid interns, good on ya!

...But, you completely flubbed it.

I am disappoint.

Things seem to be going well for you...Do you remember me? We lived on the same street for 3 years... You kind of hit on me when I asked you a question about getting a motorcycle license... I nearly ran you over on my bike several times when you were showing your motorcycle to random people at 3am...

Hello, friend!
...Oh, that's right...you never remember me, despite us being neighbours for years, and running into you several times a year at film & TV industry events (and re-introducing myself each time, naturally)... But hey, I'm just a member of Gen Y, we're all just soft, interchangeable, slave labourers to you, right?

Whump wah.

On your show last night, you brought up a valid, timely issue... the issue of unpaid internships, and whether they are necessary, just, or exploitative. Now, how did you introduce this section?

"You know, on this show over the past ten seasons we've paid close attention to things in the natural world. We care deeply about the survival and sustainability of this glorious place, but now we talk about a species that is, well, on the verge of extinction. It's quite tragic, it has no special skill, not even that fast, not everybody's entirely sure what it provides to the ecosystem, but we care nonetheless. We're of course talking about...the unpaid intern."

Now, I've highlighted a few points in your opening statement that I'd like to address...but before I do, let's give you the benefit of the doubt, and hear what you wisdom you have to impart on the subject...

Your esteemed panel of experts include:

  • 1 radio host, "Humble Howard"
  • Local comedian, Kurt Smeaton
  • Local comedian, Leslie Seiler

Hmmm, not the best of authorities on the issue, but maybe, just maybe they've studied the data, looked at some studies, and have even read the recently published Report on youth employment Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives...?

The extremely qualified panel on all issues of employment law.

Oh...no... They haven't, you haven't, and what follows shows that even if you had, you wouldn't give a shit...

The ironically titled "Humble" Howard starts things off by remarking:
"I remember when you were an intern...now look at you!"
You explain that in the "early, early days of your career you ran an overnight radio show"...so, wait, you ran a show? As an intern? "More details, pls!" cry your audience's critical thinking lobes...but you've already moved on, and used this tenuous anecdotal evidence to establish that an intern, any intern, can start at the bottom and rise to the top...Just. Like. You.

This is bullshit.

...but I digress. What other oeuvres can you and your panelists provide on the subject of illegal unpaid internships?

"Humble" Howard goes on to explain that:

"...we gave them tasks we thought were commiserate [sic] with their experience"
...but isn't the entire purpose of interning to gain experience? Surely, not to be assigned work "commiserate" with their current level of experience?


Well, let's not let facts or logic get in the way of a rich, middle aged Baby Boomer shitting on the younger generations, right? You stop him, thankfully, only to show that you are more than capable of shitting on the younger generation yourself:
"...they are smarter, they are more connected, but they are SOFTER."
You turn to one of your esteemed panelists:
"...do you think the current interns could handle what the old school days were like?"

...She responds with a heavily research-backed response of:
"...young kids today, if I may sound 80, are spending so much time like this *mimes texting*, and getting things handed to them I think it does them a little bit good!"
Panelist demonstrates what statistically backed research says "young kids today" are "spending so much time doing"...

Well, what are "young kids today" actually spending so much time on? Here are some real, data-backed answers:

  • Paying down the highest student debt in Canadian history: 
    • Between 1990 and 2010 average tuition fees rose from $1,271 to $5,139. In 2010, student debt exceeded nearly $15Billion, higher than the debt of some provinces...and it is still growing.
  • Desperately seeking employment: 
    • The 2013 unemployment rate for Ontario Youth ranged between 16 and 17.1%. Higher than the Canadian national average of 13.5 to 14.5%.
    • Toronto's youth unemployment rate is 18.1%, and it's employment rate is only 43.5%...the worst in all of Ontario.
Hey, wait, let's go deeper and examine the definition of "young kids", who is doing all that unpaid work?


The answer is pretty awful...

  • Statistics Canada keeps no records for internships, paid or unpaid... We have literally no idea who is working for free, or how many people are... But Labour Lawyer, Andrew Langille's research shows there are likely between 100,000 and 300,000 in Canada alone not being paid for their work.
  • Even using the lowest minimum wage in all of Canada (Alberta, $9.95/hr) that is $398/week, and using the lower of Andrew Langille's estimates, that is $1,990,000,000 missing from the economy.
Oh, F***!

So, George, let's go back to your opening statement to your panel on unpaid internships, and break down those points I highlighted...

"You know, on this show over the past ten seasons we've paid close attention to things in the natural world. (1) We care deeply about the survival and sustainability of this glorious place, but now we talk about a species that is, well, (2) on the verge of extinction. It's quite tragic, (3) it has no special skill, not even that fast, (4) not everybody's entirely sure what it provides to the ecosystem, but we care nonetheless. We're of course talking about...the unpaid intern."

(1) You do NOT care about the survival or sustainability of "this glorious place" (let's assume Canada). You do not seem to care that youth debt, and youth unemployment are scary high. You do not seem to care that at least $1,990,000,000/year is missing from the Canadian economy. How can a country with hundreds of thousands of slave labourers survive? Who will contribute to the EI and CPP funds and support the Baby Boomers as they retire and draw on health care? Certainly not those unpaid, life-long indebted unpaid interns. 
(2) Are interns on the "verge of extinction? NO. In fact, there has been a substantial increase in the number of unpaid internships in Canada, starting in the late 1990s. They are even moving out of the "traditional fields" of media, and journalism, and into "real" professions like software development, and into fields that have always been done with on-the-job training... like bus boys in restaurants.
(3) Interns have no special skill(s)? Let's look at the (horrible) moment when you paraded one of your own slaves on the air:
Blake, a slave for George Stroumboulopoulos.
George: "Who do you think benefits more in this scenario?"
Blake: "...In the long run, probably the intern..."
George: "Before you answer that though, remember, I'm your employer."
Blake: "Hmmm...I beg to differ on that one..."
"I beg to differ..."
Way to go, Blake, for standing up to George's outrageous, offensive bullying. George, you brought a human being (who you think is undeserving of minimum wage) out on your show, to humiliate him, and to bully him into agreeing with you, for fear of losing his "opportunity". He had the guts to point out that only those with financial support from their families (aka, rich folks) can afford the "opportunity" that unpaid internships present... Your guffaw at that only highlights the point I made in (1).

And finally,

(4) "Not everybody's entirely sure what it provides to the ecosystem"...? How about this, let's assume that "the ecosystem" is your tax-payer funded TV show that airs on CBC... Let's assume that you have 3 unpaid interns working for you, filing, photocopying, or maybe just moving boxes (all a part of my 6 month unpaid internship in the film industry). So, 3 people working 40 hours a week, at Ontario minimum wage ($10.25/hr) would cost your show $1230.00/week. So what is the mysterious "unpaid intern" offering to your ecosystem? 
It's saving you money. Roughly $1230.00/week, or $61,500.00/year.

And hey, the only trade off is you have to be OK with slavery and breaking Ontario's labour laws:
Ontario’s Employment Standards Act states that all employees must be paid at least the Ontario minimum wage ($10.25 per hour for most employees).  An “employee” includes a person who receives training from an employer.  A person is not considered an employee if these six conditions are met:
  1. The training is similar to that which is given in a vocational school
  2. The training is for the benefit of the individual
  3. The person providing the training derives little, if any, benefit from the activity of the individual while he or she is being trained
  4. The individual does not displace employees of the person providing the training
  5. The individual is not accorded a right to become an employee of the person providing the training
  6. The individual is advised that he or she will receive no remuneration for the time that he or she spends in training

George...how did we get here? You were awesome. It was the 90s, you were young, and you stood up to the big bullshit media...

...and now you are the big bullshit media. You are the old, rich guy with his boot on the neck of the youth. Giggling as you parade them on your tax-payer funded show, forcing them to dance for the possibility of opportunity.

...You, sir, are a trafficker of hope, and a bully.

...You started in the entertainment industry because of your love of music...I'll try and wrap things up with a piece of advice from singer-songwriter, Billy Bragg on the topic of cynicism and losing your values:

...Look, I hope that you re-evaluate your position on the matter. I hope that you realize that cheap, clichéd jokes that mock young people, their laziness, and how they could never work as hard as you, are just that... Cheap and clichéd, and that there are far bigger, more unpleasant truths to the issue...like how many, many employers will gladly trade their employment ethics to save a few dollars...

Maybe you'll listen to me, maybe not...but you may just remember me the next time we bump into each other.


Claire Callway

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Once Upon a Time, Anthony Head Hugged Me

Many years ago (not that many, but you get the point) I was a 16 year old running my high school's film club. It was as nerd-tastic as you can imagine...

During my tenure as creator/programmer/admin of the Northern Secondary Film Club we watched a lot of Sam Raimi, Terry Gilliam, and Ridley Scott... actually, we had some pretty great programming...maybe a little heavy on the 80s dark comedies, but shutupthoseareawesomeokay?!

...We also ran a film festival which was cancelled halfway through for content...nerdy high school street cred, yo.

During this time, I was also volunteering with the Space News team from the Space Channel during the Fan Expo convention in Toronto (although, at that time it was SFX, god I feel old...). This gave me access to some pretty cool discussions, some pretty cool places, and some pretty cool people.

note: Mr. Head, and the back of my Space News-employer's head...

Now, at this time Buffy the Vampire Slayer had been on the air for about 5 years, but I had never seen an episode...in fact, I only started watching it last week (yea yea, I'm a terrible nerd, deal wit it) , at that time I was very very heavily into The X-Files, and Six Feet Under.



So here I am, a nerdy-but-not-a-Buffy-nerdy-girl at Fan Expo, working as a production assistant on an taping of a interview with Anthony Head, and another with Ted Raimi...

Now, Ted Raimi was the real reason I was there... He is the little brother of Sam Raimi (who we all know, right? RIGHT?) creator of the Evil Dead series and several other not-quite-as-awesome films.

Mmmm, dat acting.

Now I was, in retrospect, very very naive

... But there I was, with business cards for my high school film club that I had printed out on pre-scored business card templates from my mother's office...and dammit, I was going to ask Ted Raimi to come and speak to my film club about the experience of working in heavy prosthetics on the classic (and generally awesome) horror-comedy, Evil Dead 2.

I don't know which is more horrific, the festering corpse, or the 80s happening all over blondie...

I waited till everything was being packed up, and I was released from cable-pulling duties...I screwed up my courage, double-checked that my newly acquired cell number was pencilled on the back of my homemade business card, and I approached Ted Raimi...

I love film, herp derp!

I stammered and tried to explain how fantastic my film club was, and how I wanted to start a lecture series regarding the behind-the-scenes process of film making to follow some of the films that we were showing... I tried to explain how wonderful it would be if he could come and talk to the club (at his convenience, of course) about his experience in shooting his first film, Evil Dead 2 in full body prosthetics, and under the direction of his big brother, and what it felt like to be part of a cult-classic film, and how it affected his career and life, if at all...

...I finished my sales pitch. All I could hear was my heartbeat, and all I could think was "you are the biggest loser in the world, Claire...way to go."

...and then? He took my card, said he would be delighted to, and that it sounded fantastic. Then he introduced me to his friend, Anthony Head, who I knew of but didn't really know. They commended me on my work running the film club, and then Ted Raimi asked me if I wanted a hug...

Now, I'm not a touchy-feely person. I'm not the type to give hugs to any and all people. I was...confused. Did I want a hug? Well, no, not really. Would I insult him by refusing? Possibly...


He hugged me. It was awkward...I was being hugged by Henrietta from my favourite film...not my top choice, but it was happening whether I liked it or not..


...Then Anthony Head asked me if I'd like a hug too...

At this point the answer was honestly... "Um, I don't watch your show... so this will just be some (very tall) guy hugging a (very) dorky 16 year old..." but seeing as I hadn't even asked him to come and talk to my high school film club, and he was definitely the bigger star... I didn't want to risk his ego any further.


And then Anthony Hall hugged me. I thanked them, shook hands, left the room, and pretty much forgot about the whole thing for years.

Ted Raimi never came to speak at my film club's meetings, but I don't really hold it against him...not really. And last week I started watching Buffy The Vampire Slayer...

oh hi, I didn't see you come in to the library...
Actually, it's more this:

Oh, hello there... I'm terribly sorry, I was in the stacks when you came in...!

...and I have to say...that Anthony Hall is pretty alright, and the memory of the awkward hug has become a fairly pleasant one.

Hey, 16 year old me... you rock... in retrospect.

...but seriously...retrospect.