Youth Unemployment

When assessing levels of unemployment amongst young people and the fact that many of them are part of the NEETS (Not in Employment, Education and Training) (cf. Simmons et al. 2014), it is perhaps surprising that many more young people are not politicised. Not solely down to unemployment but Generation Y, those born after 1982, are likely to grow up to be poorer than their parents’ generation. Youth unemployment is a key issue, not just in the UK but also across Europe as a whole. It is claimed that youth unemployment has almost hit the 25 per cent mark, a staggering figure of 24.4 per cent, with one in four young people, across Europe, being out of work.2 Young people constitute the sector of society worst affected by the high levels of unemployment, with 3.62 million under-25s being out of work. As Russell Lynch asserts, ‘Nearly one in four 16 to 24-year-olds across the 17 nations in the single currency is now out of work, according to monthly figures published by the EU’s data office, Eurostat’. Moreover, he proceeds to profess that this is worse in some European countries than in others, for example, ‘Well over half of those under 25 in Greece and Spain are not in work, compared with more than 40 per cent in Italy’ (Lynch 2013: 1). According to Eurostat figures,3 the youth unemployment level in Greece is 51.1 per cent, Spain 51.7 per cent, Portugal 33.3, Italy 42.0 and France is 24.6. Contrastingly, Germany is only 7.4 per cent as they have not suffered as much from the recession and the austerity measures. On the whole though, these are substantial figures, especially when one thinks about the impact upon a whole generation of young people. Various negative labels have been applied to this cohort of young people, such as the ‘lost’ generation or the ‘jilted’ generation. The chances of finding work, with so many others seeking the same, must be minimal and must surely manifest in a tangible sense of despair and disillusionment. In the UK alone, there are more than one million young people who are seeking work. According to Jon Savage, ‘In January 2014, unemployment amongst those aged 18-24 was estimated at 18.6 % and, among 16-17 year olds, up to 35.5 %’ (Savage 2014: 19). According to a House of Commons briefing paper, ‘723,000 young people aged 16-24 were unemployed in May-July 2015, which is down 17,000 from the previous quarter and down 32,000 from the previous year’ (Delebarre 2015: 2). Even with this decline, given these staggering figures, it might be anticipated that the politicisation of young people will continue apace in the coming months and years. If young people feel that they do not have a stake in society, they are likely to become increasingly disillusioned. Likewise, the perception that it is they, the younger generation, who are increasingly bearing the brunt of the cuts and the austerity measures across Europe as a whole, is likely to perpetuate discontent and possible dissent. The notion of a ‘them’ and ‘us’ society with a relative affluent older sector of society is likely to fuel the feelings of unfairness. Andrew Mycock states that ‘Unemployment at such a young age undermines self-esteem and also builds resentment. Responses to youth unemployment have been insubstantial though, with too much faith being placed in the private sector to provide short-term panaceas to long-term problems, particularly for NEETS who are also not in education or training’ (Mycock 2011, This lack of jobs, allied with other factors, such as higher university tuition fees, the increasing difficulty in terms of accessing mortgages and corresponding rising house prices meaning that first-time buyers are particularly disadvantaged, all contribute to exacerbating this situation. In addition, the proliferation of ‘zero hours’ contracts, pension reforms such as end of final salary pen?sion deals and predictions of retirement in one’s 80s potentially have a disproportionate impact on younger people. Furthermore, the reality of politicians and policymakers being middle aged or older may perpetuate the viewpoint that they are primarily legislating in their own interests. It is a fact that the socio-economic backgrounds of MPs, for example, are unrepresentative of wider society, as they do not constitute a microcosm of the wider population. They are an elite group but the question to ask alongside this is whether they constitute a ‘dominant’ elite. Do they rule in their own interests? If young people arrive at the conclusion that they do, then the levels of discontentment will rise even further. Governments, across Europe, need to take youth unemployment seriously before the levels of resentment and disillusionment rise exponentially. A generation living in despair will inevitably lead to discontent; politicians across Europe ignore this issue at their peril.

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