Polygon Created with Sketch. Home | Research

Making up time: The impact of the pandemic on young adults in Canada

The Survey on Employment and Skills, conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research in collaboration with the Diversity Institute and the Future Skills Centre, was designed to explore Canadians’ experiences with the changing nature of work, including technology-driven disruptions, increasing insecurity and shifting skills requirements.

This report explores the experiences during the pandemic of younger adults, defined as those between the ages of 18 and 34. It documents, not only the extent to which Canadian youth as a whole have been especially hard hit economically by the pandemic, but also how specific groups of youth – notably Indigenous youth, Black youth, youth with a disability, youth without a post-secondary education, and recent post-secondary graduates – have each encountered particular challenges.

Key findings

The greater insecurity of younger workers in the labour market translated into a greater likelihood of losing hours of work, of becoming unemployed, or of losing income as result of the pandemic.

The pandemic caused disruption not only to the labour market, but to education as well. Among those in the youngest age cohort (age 18 to 20), one in four stopped or postponed their postsecondary studies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As a result of the pandemic, youth who identify as Indigenous are among those most likely to have had their hours of work reduced or to have become unemployed (or both) or to be earning less than before the pandemic started.

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic affected Canadians from all backgrounds and in all age groups, but not everyone was affected in the same way. This report explores the experiences of younger adults, defined as those between the ages of 18 and 34. It documents not only the extent to which Canadian young adults as a whole have been especially hard hit economically by the pandemic, but also how specific groups of young adults – notably young adults who identify as Indigenous, Black young adults, young adults with a disability, young adults without a post-secondary education, and recent post-secondary graduates – have each encountered particular challenges.

The general impact of the pandemic

The proportion reporting an impact of the pandemic on their day-to-day life is highest among the youngest age groups, particularly among those age 21 to 24. The proportion reporting an impact of the pandemic on their day-to-day life declined slightly between December 2020 and June 2021 for middle- aged Canadians, and more noticeably for older Canadians, but held steady for those under the age of 35. These findings suggest that the pandemic’s general impact has been felt somewhat more acutely and somewhat more persistently among young Canadian adults.

The impact of the pandemic on employment

The greater insecurity of younger workers in the labour market translated into a greater likelihood of losing hours of work, becoming unemployed, or losing income as result of the pandemic.

During the pandemic, workers under the age of 30, and especially under the age of 25, were the most likely to lose hours of work as a result of the economic shutdowns. This experience is most common for those age 18 to 24. Older workers (age 60 and over) are the most likely to have become unemployed as a result of the pandemic, but the next most likely group are workers under the age of 30. Excluding workers age 60 and over, this experience is most common for those age 21 to 29. Combining these experiences, the proportion that experienced either loss of hours of work or loss of employment (or both) is again highest among those under the age of 30 (and especially those age 21 to 24).

Another important effect of the pandemic was disruption in the earnings of Canadian workers, and the likelihood of experiencing such disruption increases as age decreases. Looking at the differences across age groups, three distinct patterns emerge. Most workers over the age of 40 saw no change in earnings. Among workers between the age of 25 and 39, the most common experience was also no change in earnings, but this was the case for fewer than one in two.

The next most common outcome for those in this age group was a drop in earnings. But for those between the age of 18 and 24, the most common experience was a decline in earnings (related to their greater likelihood of losing hours of work or becoming unemployed).

Education and skills training during the pandemic

The pandemic caused disruption not only to the labour market, but to education as well. Among Canadians age 18 to 24, there was an increase during the pandemic in the proportion that are neither working nor enrolled in formal education programs, though this change occurred in the first nine months of the pandemic (in 2020) and not more recently. These individuals, typically referred to as NEET (not employed, or in education or training), represent an especially vulnerable group and should be a focus of policymakers as they shape Canada’s economic recovery from the pandemic.

About one in three young Canadian adults changed their plans for post-secondary education as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, either discontinuing or postponing their studies, or returning to the classroom. Among those in the youngest age cohort (age 18 to 20), one in four stopped or postponed their post-secondary studies as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, while just under one in five started or returned to their post-secondary studies

Research

Street scene of groups of people crossing the street

Are Adults Making Use of Career Services in Canada?

Career services represent an important way for Canadians to attain reliable and accurate labour market…

Responsive career pathways

The Responsive Career Pathways research papers include a wide range of ideas for strengthening career…

Skills development in northern mining regions: lessons from Manitoba

Many Indigenous workers in northern Manitoba depending on mining for employment, but workers may face…
View all Research