What is “Precarity”?

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A recent Tweet caught my eye: Precarious work on the rise among white collar workers. The CP News article carried by cbc.ca was specifically about Toronto librarians who, despite multiple degrees, wait on average up to 10 years to secure full time positions. If you’ve missed the news stories, Google “precarious work” and you’ll rapidly see it’s an issue today’s economy.

Precarious work is non-standard employment that is poorly paid, insecure, unprotected, and cannot support a household. — Wikipedia

CP News goes on to quote Professor Wayne Lewchuk, co-author the 2015 report The Precarity Penalty. A follow up to an earlier study, It’s More than Poverty, the new report lays out some grim and disturbing statistics, based on a survey of almost 4,200 workers in Ontario. Some 44% of workers 25 – 65 work in jobs with “some degree of precarity”. About one in five workers labour in the most insecure forms of employment (temporary and contract work, and own-account self-employment). The study outlines a host of negative outcomes connected to precarious employment and financial instability: impact on health; disproportionate impact on the foreign born and the racialized; an inability to nurture your family; depression and anxiety; lack of training and opportunity to advance.

A couple of observations from personal experience. I worked in the arts for many years, and I was always troubled that I was better paid and had far more job security than the artists who were at the heart of the enterprise. That included, in various different companies I worked for, artists, actors, dancers, poets, writers, musicians. Yes, they were making a choice, committing to their art form knowing that financial security would be a challenge. They were smart, dedicated people and it was always deeply humbling to watch them create magic.

More recently, we were interviewing for web producers. Almost without exception, the candidates had worked on a series of contracts rather than full-time employment. It spoke to a sector that contracted for labour on an as-needed basis. These were technically skilled individuals with considerable experience, but always working from contract to contract.

The CP article also talks about how difficult it is to become a full time teacher these days, with aspiring teachers working as supply teachers, short term contracts for years before either getting hired or moving on. Our teacher friends have commented how young, talented would-be teachers not getting hired, to the detriment of students.

Of course, Lewchuk’s study is about more than the white collar population. The people who suffer disproportionately from precarious employment are not white collar at all but recent immigrants, women and people of colour.

As the economy shifts, full time jobs with benefits are becoming less common. In the GTA, less than half of workers enjoy full-time permanent employment.

It makes me realize how lucky I am to have a full-time job. It makes me wonder what my son’s outlook will be.


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1 Response to What is “Precarity”?

  1. jmacindoe says:

    I can relate to many in the points in this article – it’s a competitive job market out there and full time jobs with benefits and pensions are getting harder to find by the day. Personally, I think the next generation will need to be much more entrepreneurial and able to create their own opportunities, as opposed to relying on a more traditional employer.


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