The Grid’s cover story this week is about how shitty it is out there for working young people. As Jodie Shupac writes, “for young workers, receiving benefits, having the ability to contest exploitative working conditions, and the prospect of advancement are increasingly remote possibilities.” And as I sometimes do with The Grid’s cover stories, I figured I could find some data somewhere that would help tell the story in a different way, or otherwise add to it.
What I thought: that if, for young workers, receiving benefits, having the ability to contest exploitative working conditions, and the prospect of advancement were increasingly remote possibilities, there must also be some correlation with the number of young people in unions. Unions, after all, help workers get benefits, help them contest exploitative working conditions, and help make advancement possible. What’s more, those many, many young people who’re forced into “insecure, often low-paying work that is temporary, part-time or contract-based,” as Shupac puts it, likely aren’t union members. If things are getting worse for young workers, surely there are a fewer and fewer of them who’re unionized. Makes perfect sense.
So, once I read a draft of the story last week, I tracked down some of the data I’d need on what’s called “unionization” from Statistics Canada, popped it into the spreadsheet program I use, did some math, and was immediately proven wrong.
This is the percentage of working Ontario 15-to-24-year-olds who are in a union:
And this is the times more money that working Ontario 15-to-24-year-olds in unions make than those of the same age group who aren’t in unions:
It’s not only that, slowly, a greater and greater percentage of working young people in Ontario are becoming part of unions—it’s that the gap in wages between those who aren’t and those who are is actually getting smaller.
(I tried to find out more, like whether that trend holds true specifically for Toronto, or in the private sector where far fewer people are unionized than in the public sector, or for the next age group up, or a more specific range of ages. The data either didn’t exist—for instance, the next age group up is 25-to-44-year-olds—or was too expensive to get.)
No doubt, I might have missed something here, but from what I can see, there is power in a union, yes, but the relationship between them and the mess that we young folks find ourselves in is complicated. Or at least more complicated than I was hoping for.