Global Jobs Crisis Takes Biggest Toll On Struggling Youth

Occupy Wall Street
Of all those that have suffered from global joblessness, it could be the young job seekers in developed economies that have paid the highest price. And the collective frustration is beginning to add up.

At the end of last year, there were an estimated 75.1 million young people around the world struggling to find jobs -- a group nearly the size of the population of Iran. The group of job hunters, ages 15 to 24, has expanded by 4.6 million since the Great Recession began, according to a new report by the International Labour Organization, a specialized agency of the United Nations.

The burden is heaviest for the young in Europe, the U.S., and other advanced economies, where the youth unemployment rate saw the biggest overall jump between 2008-2010. Adding to the concern: While other regions of the world saw youth unemployment rates peak in 2009, these countries were among the few, globally, that continued to see the unemployment rate creep up.

This course does not appear to be changing, at least not any time soon.

"I think these trends are going to continue to increase," said ILO economist Sara Elder, the main author of the report. "The main issue is job creation. We know that we are having a hard time creating enough jobs, today. We know that for the next couple of years we will continue having a hard time creating jobs."

Elder was troubled most by the large number of young seekers -- concentrated primarily in the developed economies -- that have given up looking for work altogether. Once a job seeker gives up the hunt, they are no longer counted among the unemployed.

The situation in Ireland is a particularly troubling: In 2010, the youth unemployment rate was 27.5 percent -- more than triple the 9.0 percent rate from 2007. But the real numbers are more staggering still: If all of those who had given up looking for work were still counted as unemployed, the rate could be as high as 46.8 percent.

In the U.S., a similar, though less extreme, pattern is underway. This past July -- typically the summertime peak in youth employment -- the share of young people employed was 48.8 percent -- the lowest July rate on record, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which began gathering such data in 1948.

The problem with the kids, as an economist from the federal reserve put it recently, is not that they are spending too much time playing video games. Instead, when the job market grows weak -- and stays that way -- young job seekers get pushed out.

"When the young drop out, they simply are facing up to reality: There are no jobs out there, and the full consequences of this are difficult to grasp" Elder said. "The longer they spend detached from the labor market the more difficult it will be to get back in. They will carry with them a distrust of the economic system and the government."

But, here, Elder sees one silver lining: With dropping out of the labor market comes free time, and free time can bring protest -- and change.

The past year has seen widespread protests erupt in the Middle East and Europe -- in Spain, for example, "Los indignados," spent much of last summer protesting the staggering near 45 percent youth unemployment rate. More recently, protests have developed in the United States, radiating out from downtown Manhattan's financial district. Last weekend, the Occupy Wall Street movement went global in a "day of rage" where protesters gathered to push back against high unemployment, inequality and economic crisis.

"It is now a fact that people have a lot of time on their hands," Elder said. "And its a natural connection: If young people have nothing to do, if they start to distrust the system, if the economic inequality is high, then they'll start to protest."

"And then, there will be a breaking point," Elder continued. "I think that's the point that we're reaching, and I'm looking forward to it because it will be change. Maybe it will bring back a better future."

Brophy Thursday 20 October 2011 - 08:59 am | | Brophy Blog

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