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Vancouver ranked best city for youth to work, despite crazy cost of living

A new study looking at the best places for youth to work in Canada has ranked Vancouver as number one, despite falling near the bottom in cost of living.

A new study looking at the best places for youth to work in Canada has ranked Vancouver as number one, despite falling near the bottom in cost of living. 

Vancouver’s first-place ranking in the 2021 Urban Youth Index was driven by top scores in public health, equity and inclusion, and public transportation. The city — which included 14 of the Metro area's municipalities* — also scored third among Canadian cities in climate change and digital access, and fifth in the good youth jobs category. 

That’s despite ranking among the least affordable cities — 25th of 27 — in Canada. 

“There are such interesting factors in this study,” said Paul Kershaw, a UBC professor in the School of Population and Public Health and head of organization Generation Squeeze. “But at the end of the day, these issues rest on the degree to which one’s hard work can pay off.”

In that regard, says Kershaw, Metro Vancouver should rank among the worst cities in Canada. 

The study did adjust the weight of the 76 different indicators, but Kershaw said because the cost of housing rises to another stratosphere compared to any other bill, the study misses what’s fundamentally shaping the ability of young people to stay in the region. 

“Not all indicators are equally important. Having a baby that doesn’t have a nursing room in the closet,” he said. “That’s arguably more important than if you have to access Wi-Fi around the city.” 

“It contributes to youth washing,” he added. “Vancouver, to some degree, gets left off the hook in these studies.”

Kershaw did give credit to the study for including such a wide breadth of things that seemingly matter to young people. 

On climate change, for example, the Urban Youth Index scored cities based on traditional environmental indicators. 

Vancouver was found to have the highest amount of recycled waste per capita and scored second-best overall in the number of electric car charging stations. 

But the study also measured how prominent and early climate change education made it into the curriculum, and created a climate advocacy opportunity scale, where Vancouver landed in second place. Together, that propelled the city to third place overall, only slightly behind Mississauga and Montreal.  

“You definitely can give Vancouver a special place for its rhetorical points,” said Kershaw. “Those things definitely matter. It’s a seaside city — in the next several decades, is it going to be underwater?”

The study represents two years of data collection drawn primarily from SFU’s Pivot Hub program, a youth-driven database launched last April to propel Canadian research and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The project, designed to strengthen youth concerns, inform policy and create equitable future cities, employed over 1,100 young people to collect data on urban centres from across Canada.

Vancouver wasn’t the only B.C. city ranked among the best places for youth to work in Canada. 

In nearby Victoria, the city was found to have the second-lowest unemployment rate and tied for first place with Vancouver, Edmonton and Saskatoon for university co-op and internship placements. 

B.C.’s capital came in fourth overall, leading all other Canadian cities in the economy and scoring second in good youth jobs and minimum wage. 

Kelowna, meanwhile, landed in 12th place overall out of 27 cities, largely “in the middle of the pack” but ranked fourth overall in cost of living.

*NOTE: The 2021 Urban Work Index defined Vancouver through 14 Metro municipalities, including Burnaby, Vancouver, Coquitlam, Delta, Langley, Maple Ridge, New Westminster, North Vancouver, Pitt Meadows, Port Coquitlam, Port Moody, Richmond, Surrey, West Vancouver and White Rock.