If general unemployment is the most important indicator of today’s continuing global economic struggle, then youth unemployment will become tomorrow’s.
Nearly 75 million youth – i.e., job seekers between 15 and 24 years – are unemployed around the world, an increase of more than 4 million since 2007, according to the International Labor Organization. In October 2012, the youth unemployment rate was 23.4% in the European Union (and considerably higher in euro victims Spain and Greece, at around 55%). It’s projected that at the end of 2012 the rate in North Africa will have reached 27.5% of the young population – the highest regional rate in the world – and 26.4% in the Middle East. Things are only somewhat rosier in the world’s largest economy, with the U.S. rate of unemployment among people under 25 hitting 16% as of late 2012.
True, these percentages are not as dire as they sound. Many young people study full-time and, as such, are not generally counted among the labor force used as the denominator for calculating the unemployment rate. But the world’s youth won’t find hope in statistical niceties. Indeed, we have seen one of the most serious of the short-term consequences of these unprecedented joblessness records: systemic social unrest. Unemployment among the young was, along with political repression, one of the stronger impulses behind the Arab Spring; it helped spark the Occupy Wall Street movement in the U.S., as well as the Indignados protests in Spain. On a smaller level, many youngsters see no other option than to move back home after they finish their studies, earning them a new epithet: the boomerang generation.
In the U.S. there are signs that the youth are the new face of a national homeless population. And in many situations young ones believe their only solution is to leave their home country and migrate to those where they envision a successful future.
But the issue’s long-term consequences should be acknowledged and managed heads-on. Europe doesn’t need a lost generation. The U.S. doesn’t need any more NEETs – i.e., those ‘not in education, employment or training’. Some 14.8% of young Americans qualified as such in the first quarter of 2011 (the most recent period available).
The large segment of society without a job should be, some would argue, more of a priority for policy-makers, governments and civil society than it currently is. But theories about the correct response are sharply divided. Some advocate higher government spending on employment programs; others want what are commonly called pro-growth reforms to the labor market and tax code.
A report released on December 19th by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs indicated that at going trends, it could take until at least until 2017 just to recoup the jobs lost in the United States and Europe since the 2008-9 recession. An 18-year-old without a job when the economic crisis began will by then have turned 27 — his or her life, it could be argued, permanently limited and straitened by years spent in labor purgatory. And the world has seen the vivid and sometimes violent sequels of these conditions already.