For the first time in the history of modern Europe, youth unemployment in one country, Spain, is above fifty percent. All told, 51.4 percent of young people are unemployed in Spain and 46.6 percent in Greece, 30.7 percent in Portugal, 28 percent in Italy. In Britain, 22 percent of those aged 16 to 24 are without a job: It’s the first time that over one million young people have been unemployed in Britain for the past 15 years.
In comparison, about 18 percent of those 16 to 24 in the US are unemployed.
All told, 16.3 million people in the 17-nation European Union are out of work.
Earlier this week, EU leaders at the World Economic Forum in Davos said they would commit 22 billion euros to address the increasingly dire problem of youth unemployment. EU leaders are proposing a plan according to which all young people would be guaranteed work, training or further education within four months of finishing school.
Robert Zoellick, president of the World Bank, emphasized that youth employment is a problem not only for western nations but all over the world. “If people don’t get the right start it can affect them their whole lives. It is not enough to muddle through. It is not enough to do a fiscal fix,” Zoellick emphasized.
The demands for the EU and financial leaders to do more to address the job crisis has highlighted the EU’s calls for austerity measures even as many others in Europe have called for “kickstart[ing] flagging national economies with extra spending.”
The Lost Generation
The human toll of the economic crisis is painfully, and poignantly, apparent in a Guardian article entitled “Europe’s lost generation: how it feels to be young and struggling in the EU“. Viola Caon interviewed twentysomethings in her hometown of Civita Castellani in Italy. Most have college degrees and none have full-time jobs. Some have traineeships that do not pay expenses; those who have jobs are poorly paid and have no job security. As Caon comments,
Getting a foot on the ladder has never been simple in Italy, where who you know is often key. But with the country facing austerity for the foreseeable future, and eurozone GDP as a whole predicted to shrink by 0.5% in 2012, the outlook is bleak.
The situation in Greece and Spain is even bleaker. In Greece, four out of ten without jobs are aged 16 to 24 and “fears of impending economic collapse and warnings that it may take 10 years before the service-oriented economy even begins to recover have spurred many of the brightest and best to look abroad.” So many young, educated Greeks are now leaving the country for other places in Europe and Australia that people speak of a “brain drain.”
In Spain, twentysomethings are described as both the best-educated generation ever and also the one with the bleakest prosepects:
About a decade ago, a new term was coined to describe young people who earned €1,000 a month – the mileuristas. Now things are so bad that this disparaging term describes an unattainable aspiration for most.
25-year-old Marita Blázquez’s experience is typical:
“I’ve found it impossible to get a job in my own field. In my hometown of Granada, I worked as a monitor in a shopping mall kids’ play area and that’s the closest I’ve got to working with kids, which has been my goal since I started studying. I came to Madrid but all I could get were two part-time jobs, first at a department store and then in a clothes shop, where they hired me as a clerk with an illegal contract making €3 an hour. When I asked for better conditions my boss fired me. I started studying again to become a teacher. But only a few posts are open every year so I have no idea what I am doing next.”
Despite this bleak outlook, some of those interviewed voiced a note of hope. 24-year-old Christos Xeraxoudis, an unemployed chef in Athens, says, despite a months-long job search that has yielded nothing:
“..I am optimistic. Greece needed to change. It needs to be rebuilt from the beginning. It has so much going for it but somehow had lost its way. After all, we had got to the point where we were importing lemons from Argentina.”
Have European leaders acted too late to address rampant youth unemployment? Even while they seek to address the problem now, is too little being done far, far too late?
Related Care2 Coverage
Photo of a May 15, 2011, demonstration in Madrid by ACido. "No hay pan para tanto chorizo" means "Not enough bread for so much chorizo"; "chorizo" means both a sausage and (in slang) a petty thief.