Omar works as a correctional officer at a provincial detention centre in Ottawa, but has long wanted to work for the Border Services Agency. There’s only one problem; the agency doesn’t let applicants choose which port of entry they are stationed at. With two elderly parents at home, his options are limited.
Omar (whose name has been changed due to the nature of his work) currently lives in a nearby suburb with his wife, two kids, and parents who rely on his support. In his family’s Afghani culture, the youngest son is responsible for parental caretaking, a duty he takes seriously. Unfortunately, it’s also one that limits his career opportunities.
According to Statistics Canada, the number of Canadians living at home with parents has doubled between 1995 and 2017. This is largely due to ballooning housing prices and precarious working conditions. As more job opportunities become available in high density urban areas, Millennials are being priced out of the housing market. Access to reliable public transit, as well as flexible, remote working options are critical for allowing Canadian Millennials living in the suburbs to access economic opportunities in nearby cities.
Job growth is expanding, but in the most expensive cities
Job growth has exploded in major urban centres like Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. However, opportunities are simultaneously shrinking in less populated regions like Oakville and Fort McMurray. This is primarily the result of declining manufacturing and oil and gas sectors. Consequently, housing costs in those large cities have sky-rocketed, pricing out many would-be homebuyers—especially those living in multigenerational homes. According to a recent study by CBRE, Vancouver is now the world’s 4th most expensive real estate market on the planet. Toronto follows closely behind in 12th place, and Montreal in 26th.
Omar is part of a generation caught between a prohibitively expensive housing market, and a rapidly evolving economy, primarily concentrated in major cities.
A tug of war between responsibility and opportunity
To further complicate matters, some Millennials also have parenting and/or caretaking responsibilities to contend with. In many cultures, living with parents is more of an expectation than a choice. In fact, more than double the proportion of South Asian (21%) and Chinese (19%) Canadians live with their parents, according to Statistics Canada, compared to the general population (9%). Many need to consider their families when making career decisions. As a result, there’s a growing tension between the economic realities of the Canadian career opportunity landscape and the cultural expectations of those communities. Many will have to sacrifice those commitments in order to reach their own career potential. While others will have to sacrifice career opportunities in order to preserve the family-centric culture of their communities.
Work is more precarious than ever
Stable, full-time employment opportunities are harder to come by, even in some of Canada’s largest cities. A recent survey by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives found that 22% of Canadians now find themselves in non-traditional working situations, working contract-to-contract, part-time, or on a freelance basis.
Nancy Worth, an assistant professor of Geography and Environmental Management at the University of Waterloo, recently co-authored a study titled “Gen Y At Home,” explains. “We have more part time work and contracts, with less permanence and benefits, so a lot of young people don't know what kind of job they'll have in a year. This makes it hard to find a lease or save.”
These insecure working conditions force many to live with their parents for longer periods of time, typically beyond city limits. This limits their access to job opportunities.
Making the best of a difficult situation
While some Millennials are expected to live at home with their parents for cultural reasons, Professor Worth’s research found that many Canadians who live with their parents do so by choice. Nearly 80% live at home to save money, and 70% are satisfied with the living arrangement. She argues that the increasingly precarious nature of work coupled with skyrocketing housing prices makes living at home an appealing option.
“People that have the opportunity to stay with their parents are lucky, because not everybody has that opportunity,” says Worth. “You have the ability to save on housing costs,benefit from family support, and get advice about the job market. I think a lot of young people are choosing that because it's hard out there in terms of getting a job that will support the housing you want.”
Through that lens, the opportunity to live with family later in life can be seen as an enabler of career growth, rather than a limiting factor. The parental home represents one of the last refuges of stability for many Millennial Canadians. At the same time, however, others may feel stuck in a living situation that was forced on them, whether by economic or cultural factors, and perceive it to limit their career opportunities. “The grass always seems greener,” said Worth. “If people didn't have to live at home, or didn't feel that cultural connection to living at home, they'd have to pay rent somewhere, and that would limit the kind of jobs they could do in order to afford those housing costs. There are always trade offs.”
Employer policies and infrastructure are adapting to new work realities
While many Canadians are priced out of the country’s major economic hubs, a trend towards more flexible and remote working arrangements has the potential to bridge the gap. According to a recent study by Regus Canada, nearly half of all Canadian employees work from home for at least two and a half days per week. As a result, more people are able to enjoy economic opportunities available in nearby major cities without having to live in them, or commute every day.
According to Ashley Paton, an urban planner for GSP Group Inc., urban planners and municipal governments are working to create an environment that enables workers in the suburbs to take part in the economic opportunities of nearby cities,
The most significant considerations, according to Paton, are community building as well as infrastructure projects that can better connect people to major cities. “Creating equal opportunities while more people are living with their parents in the inner and outer suburbs relies on improving transit connectivity,” she says.
To prepare for his parents to move in with him, Omar had to relocate his family from downtown Ottawa to a nearby suburb. This adds about half an hour to 45 minutes to his commute. His job requires a physical presence and remote working isn’t an option, but, public transit could go a long way in expanding his career opportunities in the future.
Omar is hoping to be stationed in a city or town big enough to offer the medical resources his parents rely on. But, not too big that he can’t afford a home with enough space for all three generations of his family to live in. Unfortunately, in Canada such options are limited until fast, reliable public transit extends further into the suburbs.
Such infrastructure projects won’t happen overnight. In the meantime, Millennials are forced to make sacrifices. For some, their career ambitions are taking a back seat to family responsibilities. For others, living at home is a choice, but one that potentially keeps certain career opportunities out of reach. For more, it’s a vicious cycle, where living at home is a necessity, but one that limits access to career opportunities within the city. No matter where you find yourself on this spectrum, ask yourself what sacrifices or trade-offs you’re willing to make. And, whether that which you stand to gain in doing so is worth it.