Like many of the global events which have dotted human history, the Great Recession, which began in the U.S. in 2007 and was felt across the world by 2009, has changed, perhaps forever, the way we must envision the timeline of our lives.
In an October 2013, Toronto Star opinion piece called “Time to bust myths about youth unemployment,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne said, “Across Ontario, young people are struggling to find jobs. The unemployment rate for Ontario youth is 16.4 per cent and here in Toronto, it’s even higher: 18.2 per cent.” Wynne emphasized, “The challenges this generation faces are not the result of entitlement or laziness.”
This staggering unemployment rate is due in part to a change in opinion regarding the age of retirement in North America. This was brought on by the global recession of 2008.
“Employers that used to hire more than one student are now committed to one a term. Even if they’re doing well, they’re not as liberal with their spending,” said Sandra Cocco, manager of Conestoga College Employee Relations and Job Development. “That’s one of the disadvantages of the recession. If you learned how to do without during that time period, people aren’t going to go back and pump up the hiring or bring in more people because they proved to themselves that they can work on a slim book budget and less resources and still achieve the same objectives, so they just do without.”
At the time of the last recession many baby boomers lost their investments, jobs and overall security at the pinnacle of their working lives. Here in Canada, the recession was not as extreme as it was south of the border but grave, negative impacts were felt and are still emerging judging from the statistics today.
According to the 2013 Sun Life Canadian unretirement (sic) index, just over a quarter of Canadians expect to retire by the age of 66. The same index reports that more than three out of five respondents say they will work through retirement because they “have to.”
Potential retirees are staying in the workforce much longer than they used to, and they’re living a lot longer too. According to the World Health Organization, the average life expectancy for a Canadian today is 82 years old.
Life expectancy remained fairly constant for most of human history up until the last century when humans saw a dramatic, two-fold uptick in global life expectancies due to the advent of modern medicine.
In a 2004 study entitled World Population to 2300, the United Nations’ population division projected that life expectancies in most developed countries will be between 100 and 106 years and still rising by 2300, though at progressively slower rates.
It’s also widely held, though contentious, that human longevity will reach an age expectancy ceiling of around 100 years old unless scientific discoveries are made and implemented in the way humans age, as opposed to treating the aging process itself.
With respect to starting work later, researchers worry that millennials will, and perhaps already are, facing a phenomenon called “scarring,” which forecasts long-term negative economic and social effects. The term scarring signifies a postponing of the traditional coming-of-age experiences 20- to 30-year-olds are expected to have.
The 20-somethings, or twixt, are a cohort of the population who are stuck somewhere in-between adolescence and adulthood. They value experience and higher education and most importantly freedom from the conventional expectations and obligations traditionally associated with early-adulthood like marrying, mortgaging, children and careers. Psychologists more accurately call this phase “emerging-adulthood.”
A growing subject in the field of research psychology, “emerging-adulthood” is characterized by five distinct features according to Clark University psychologist Jeffery Arnett. These include: “identity exploration, instability, feeling in-between, a sense of possibilities and self-focus.”
The changing face of traditional expectation has been brought on by life expectancy improvements but synthetically jump-started by the Great Recession. Boomers are staying employed longer and the millennials are starting work, getting married and mortgaging homes later.
The average retirement age in Canada is increasing as life expectancy and a will to “unretire” marked by consumer debt rises in parallel.
Unforeseen reverberations of the Great Recession are invoking a paradigm shift in our social lexicon of what it means to be an adult.
While millenials are redefining the purpose of boomers’ basements everywhere, they triumph in the fact that they are the most educated in human history yet grouse about the worst unemployment rates since the Great Depression.