High summer unemployment means back-to-school stress for GTA university students

by Kilian Bugayong

September 24, 2009

Marlon Souza Luis, a third year mathematics and human biology major at the University of Toronto sat on the GO train folding his empty LCBO box after packing his four large drinks in his knapsack.  Thursdays are usually pub nights for Souza Luis’ group of friends but instead, he was thinking about how he copes with his mounting debts and unemployed status as he formed his last fold.

“And it’s not alcoholism,” Souza Luis said, with a laugh.

“I already owe about $35 thousand. I’ve amassed so much debt within three years that anymore is of no consequence,” Souza Luis said.

Despite his growing debt, like many students this past summer Souza Luis could do very little. According to a study released by Statistics Canada on September 4, the average summer unemployment rate of students aged 15-24 reached 19.2 per cent, the second highest rate since 1977.

Although Souza Luis did not have a full-time job this past summer, he was able to somewhat support himself by tutoring high school students in math for $25 per hour whenever possible, “which wasn’t often,” Souza Luis added.

To combat this setback, students like Souza Luis have found various ways to cope with their debt, whether it is positive thinking, or a more proactive approach like working during their school year. For Souza Luis, who relies on both OSAP and his parents, knowing that he can eventually pay off his when he’s a doctor is what gets him through.

Some however were not so lucky.  The extended term implemented at York University due to the strike, made it difficult for many York students to find a summer job, leaving many students unemployed.  Eric Fox was one of those students.

Outside his Ajax home, Fox, a theater studies major, sat silently on his porch, wearing his father’s old suit, fiddling with his pack of cigarettes.  He is an admirer of suits reminiscent of classic actors like Cary Grant, but said he has to be content with hand-me-downs.

“Not a lot of people could get jobs, and even if you could, you had a month or less to work, so you wouldn’t be able to make much for the next year,” said Fox as he took a long drag of his cigarette.  “To make things simple I just tried to be as frugal as I could.”  There were many times he passed up going to the movies with friends.

On top of his university expenses, Fox also enrolled in driving school during the latter half of his summer, which exhausted his funds.

“By the end of the summer I was completely broke, and after tuition I’ll have about $600 dollars of OSAP money to live on because by now I’m pretty sure we’re out of the savings,” Fox said.

In the meantime, inside Aji Sai Japanese Restaurant on Queen Street West, Kate Aenlle, a Ryerson University journalism student who has remained employed in various jobs for the past six years, such as at Second Cup, at a post office, and at Change, says she feels the exact opposite of Souza Luis.

“I’m terrified of debt; it haunts my dreams,” Aenlle said. “I’ve been fortunate enough not to need OSAP.  My tuition is from my parents and everything else is my own.”

Her only actual debt is the $500 she owes for her new laptop.

As a part of the population of employed students, Aenlle has a constant flow of income, which keeps her from building up a debt.  However constant expenses like transportation, books and food also prevent her from saving funds

“I’m a little afraid it might mean that when the day comes that I want to fly away from the nest I will only have $50 in my bank account. I already have no money now,” said Aenlle, with a nervous chuckle.

Back on the GO train, Souza Luis rises from his seat ready to disembark at Union Station.  At present, his plans are to continue volunteering at the Ajax and Pickering Hospital and tutoring high school math students.  He does not plan to apply for jobs during the school year, as he considers his education more important.

Fox also decided to suspend the idea of a job.  Currently his health, as well as his academic performance, are being hurt by the stress-inducing search for work, he said.  Instead he plans to work as a bartender once he completes the training, which he says should be by the summer of 2010.

Meanwhile inside an Urban Outfitters, in the heart of Toronto’s Queen Street, Aenlle smiled widely. On any other day she would have walked past the $68 outfit, but with it being on sale for $19, she stood at the cash register, wallet in hand, and watched with as the cashier folded and packaged her new black dress.



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