Statistics Canada came out with a pretty juicy report this week. Called "Education Indicators in Canada" (okay, the title is a bit bare-bones), it contains data on everything from the number of international students in Canada through to the relative level of teachers' salaries. What caught my eye in the report, however, was a statistic called the proportion of "NEET" Canadians – individuals who are not in education, employment or training.
The NEET statistic is not as easy to interpret as it might seem. Why might people (and the statistic tends to be used to look at young people) neither be in school nor at work? Well, they could have inherited sufficient funds that they find it unnecessary to work. They could be dealing with an illness. They could be home taking care of young children, or perhaps helping aging parents. Or – and this is the most interesting possibility in an economic context – they could have just thrown in the towel on finding work, and do not see furthering their education as a viable option.
According to the report, 13.3 per cent of Canada's population aged 15 to 29 was in the NEET category, a little below the 15.8 per cent seen across the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. On the bright side, the unemployment rate for the total group was 5.7 per cent in Canada, compared with 6.5 per cent internationally. True, Canadians were less likely to be in school – 43.7 per cent versus 47.2 per cent across the OECD – but that might just have been because the employment market was more inviting in Canada. So Canada seemed nicely ahead on the NEET indicators.
Unfortunately, things broke down when I took a look at the NEET split between young men and young women. Instinctively I figured that there would be a bias toward more women being included in NEET. After all, young women are more likely to be home with their kids than are young men. And that is true: For the 15-to-29 age group, 9.1 per cent of females are not in the labour force nor in education, compared with 6 per cent of men. The comparable figures across the OECD are 12.5 per cent and 6.2 per cent, respectively.
But young men in Canada are more likely to be jobless: 7.1 per cent of men aged 15 to 29 were unemployed, compared with 4.4 per cent of women. Interestingly, the male unemployment rate in Canada was similar to that across the OECD (where it was 7.3 per cent), but for women it was quite a bit lower in Canada (the OECD average was 5.7 per cent).
Canadian men are also less likely to be in school than women: 41.5 per cent of men aged 15 to 29 were pursuing an education, compared with 45.9 per cent of women. There is a gap across the OECD as well – 46.1 per cent for men versus 48.5 per cent for women – but the gap is not as wide as it is in Canada.
So what are we to take from the international comparisons? Well, lined up against other developed countries, Canada is clearly doing better than average in terms of overall labour force outcomes for youth. However, even a cursory look at the data shows that this "better" is concentrated pretty squarely on young women, who are apparently more likely to be employed than young men if they want to be, and more likely to be in school if they do not.
Now, the data are a couple of years old; it is possible of course that the split narrowed a bit since 2011. But it is concerning that it was there at all, and that it was a wider split than was true in other countries.
Building a strong economy is going to have to mean educating and employing younger workers. If something is afoot that is leaving young men measurably behind, then we need to figure out why – or be prepared for the consequences.
Linda Nazareth is a Senior Fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. Her book Economorphics: The Trends Changing Today into Tomorrow will be published by Relentless Press this month. www.economorphics.com