As a society, the problems we are trying to solve today reflect choices and actions we made in the past. Never in our collective memory has there been an election where this fact has been so true. And rarely are the warning signs of imminent problems so clear as they are when it comes to what Canada’s children and youth face after this pandemic. They are a generation in danger of losing out on a future previous generations took for granted.
Children and youth are experiencing multiple shocks as a direct result of the pandemic, impacting their development, health, and wellbeing. More than a year and a half later and with no end in sight, disruptions in their education, loss of employment or household income, social isolation, limited recreational opportunities, and illness or loss of loved ones have taken their toll. But hearing from our political leaders and reading their party platforms, the true scale of this challenge seems to be lost.
In many ways, for young people, the adverse effects have only just begun. In fact, the International Labour Organization is predicting that children and youth will experience the aftermath of this crisis for the next decade and longer. They warn that young people will be locked away from opportunity and, unless we take urgent action now, become the ‘lockdown generation.’
We are already seeing the consequences for young people in Canada. At the onset of the pandemic, the number of young people not in education, employment, and training (NEET) reached a two-decade high. And not all young people have been affected equally. Gen Z women make up 2.5 per cent of Canada’s labour force, yet they experienced 17 per cent of job losses.
We ignore all of these signs at our collective peril. When young people aren’t thriving in the economy, this has implications for everyone. Research from the UK, a fellow G7 nation, is forecasting that pandemic-induced youth unemployment will cause a decline of $25 billion for their country’s GDP. It’s safe to assume Canada will experience a similar outcome if we don’t take targeted action.
Experts have been raising this alarm for close to 18 months now. In May 2020, UNICEF Canada’s Rapid Child Impact Assessment outlined the dire consequences of prolonged lockdowns on child rights and well-being. Just last month, YMCA Canada and YWCA Canada confirmed those concerns and published Preventing a Lockdown Generation in Canada, a six-point plan to support Canada’s youth in the post-pandemic recovery. Together we are urging the next government to address the pandemic’s long-term impacts on youth head on.
We believe young people in Canada need a response plan commensurate with the scale of the challenge facing them to support their recovery and resiliency. This includes access to affordable high-quality child care spaces to support their early learning and development, and the chance to pursue higher levels of education and training to help them reach their full potential. For those entering the workforce, this means meaningful employment opportunities so they can build their careers. Holistically, for all young people, whether they are in school, starting a career, or starting a family, this also means having access to services and places that help them be physically active and that support their mental health, leadership opportunities for them to contribute to and give back, and having a safe and affordable place to call home.
A generational upheaval like COVID-19 requires a generational response, not a copy and paste of priorities from the past. We must remember an election isn’t just about the next few years. It’s about setting a course for the generations to come.
We can see the challenges created by the pandemic for Canada’s children and youth. But we also know how to prevent them from becoming much, much worse. As you vote, don’t think only of the policies that will help you now, think about which party will support the future you want to see for our young people.
David Morley, UNICEF Canada President & CEO, and Peter Dinsdale, YMCA Canada President & CEO