Youth Unemployment: I Want to Scream

18/07/2012 12:05 BST | Updated 15/09/2012 10:12 BST


The debt crisis in Europe has been unprecendented in its enduring scale and scope. And undoutedly many can call upon the status of eurozone victim, but for one section of society the crisis in Europe has been unique in its severity - Europe's youth.

Europe's youth are a demographic slice of society who have only ever known the stability and refuge of academia, and who, all of a sudden have entered a peculiar and alien world with the expectation that they should find a career and become responsible adults. And, in recent years, with these perennial challenges of youth have come a range of rancid condiments including rising taxes, government cuts, austerity and anaemic growth.

Under this tepid economic backdrop Europe's youth have been confronted with truly desperate conditions and with youth unemployment festering since 2008 the issue is increasingly looking to become a long-term structural problem; raising fears that years of unemployment could produce a "Lost Generation" in Europe.

These worries are not unfounded and they are not exagerated; they are entirely sensible and grounded on hard facts: in Europe youth unemployment indices are scarily high with an average of 22%. At national level Britain and France both count 22% of its youth out of work. In Italy things are worse at 35%; but in Spain and Greece conditions for the young are much gloomier with pernicious metrics of 51.5% and 53% respectively.

However these scary figures don't paint a true picture of the extent of youth unemployment in Europe as many young people, aware of the realities, are avoiding the labor market and seeking sanctuary within the walls of academia.

Outside Europe, much of the West's developed nations continue to feel the ills of the global economic turndown, with youth unemployment in the US at 16.5% and Canada posting equally ugly data.

However there is a safe haven for anyone seeking to gain returns on their investment in education with Germany the clear choice: bucking the trend with a youth unemployment rate of a relatively modest 7.9%.

Considering these numbers, a core concern is that the longer the young fail to find employment and shift the proverbial monkey off their back, the ever harder it becomes: opening the possibility for the young to become lost in a negative sentiment feedback loop; with skills atrophy, declining expectations, discouragement, disillusionment, disenfranchisement, civic alienation, social unrest, substance abuse, suicide and benefits entrapment all very real and potentially irreversible problems.

Connected to this, the worry becomes that if millions of young disgruntled youth never properly shift the proverbial monkey, they could well find themselves permanently locked out of good careers. A phenomenon that could leave a scar on society and an leave a dangerous legacy: both an unbalanced econonmy and a warped demographic profile.

The aptly research paper entitled, 'The wage scar from male youth unemployment (2005),' available, here (, backs this assertion. This study found that British men who were unemployed for at least a year betweens the ages of 16 and 23 were still suffering from a "wage penalty" at age 42 - knocking 13-21% of their aggregate earnings.

And this is what scares me the most. I have for some time sought to remain positive, working to capitalise on my free time and working to catch up on the things that work curtails and which coincidentally I love to do.

However this hard and methodologically rigorous quantitative data, which I discovered only recently, sends a shiver down my spine.

I myself, who graduated in July 2010, have been lingering on the sides for just over two years and the realisation of the hard facts associated with a deferred career start, principally in terms of career progression and earnings, have been keeping me awake at night - and I can only guess that it has had an equal effect on the many millions of unemployed young people across Ireland, the UK and Europe.

But with these very real and alarming worries has come an appetite for studying the macro situation as it is in Europe, a desire to agitate in order to raise the profile of the seemingly insoluble dilemma and a hunger to underscore the paucity of political debate and government action on the issue.

Certainly the OECD has pushed governments in recent times on the need to take appropriate action to address stubbornly high levels of youth unemployment, as you can see, here (

I have written and illustrated extensively on this topic and I find the utility of the illustrated comment particularly hard-hitting. I hope to continue to write and cartoon on this most troubling issue and build on the work I have done so far. I hope to contribute to the debate and elevate the issue as best I can.

I belive that things can be adjusted so that all will not be lost, and I believe that, for those who have the determination and drive, victory lies ahead. After all, Shakespeare said: great are the uses of adversity, which, like the toad, ugly and venemous, wears yet a precious jewel upon its head.

Let's learn from our mistakes, look outside our borders, prepare approporiately and be prepared to do things that others don't, won't and are too scared to do.