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A generation betrayed

· Youth and unemployment ·

The anger of protestors who for months now have invaded the public squares of half the world is that of a generation at a standstill, disillusioned by dreams of narcissistic and quarrelsome fathers. The slow death of liberalism of the 80’s and 90’s, is leaving us with a world split in two: countries that are no longer growing and are populated by a mass of unemployed, and countries that are growing too much and paying a high price in terms of rights, respect for the environment and growing poverty. There is no doubt: youthful rhetoric has always been the preferred argument of political classes unable to decide. Today, however, from the void created by choices not made, a more frightening monster could arise, one of violence and terrorism. Who is responsible? Outdated politics, inept governments, a backwards cultural system? Or is it the young people themselves who should be issuing a mea culpa?

According to the latest report of the ILO (International Labour Organization) the generation of 20-30-year-olds is marked by a dangerous combination of high unemployment, growing inactivity and precariousness making it difficult to plan an acceptable future and make long- term plans. This situation, “brings not only current discomfort from unemployment, under-employment and the stress of social hazards associated with joblessness and prolonged inactivity, but also possible longer term consequences in terms of lower future wages and distrust of the political and economic system.” It is becoming impossible for a young person to find anything more than part-time or underpaid work and this phenomenon – perhaps for the first time in history – has a planetary dimension: in the last twenty years in the Middle East and North Africa, nearly one youth in four has been unemployed, despite progress made in education.

Two notable aspects emerge from the ILO’s document. The first regarding discouraged young people, the so-called inactives who are outside of the formation system and job market and do not appear in statistics. In fact, the absolute number of unemployed young people in the world has diminished slightly from it peak in 2009 (from 75.8 to 75.1 million at the end of 2010, or a rate of 12.7%) and is projected to decrease even more to 74.6 million in 2011, or 12.6%. Yet, according to the ILO, the decrease is only due to the growing number of inactives who, discouraged, give up looking for a new job. In Europe, the ILO point to Ireland where the unemployment rate for youth has grown from 9% in 2007 to 27.5% in 2010 but could be even higher if those who are “hidden” were included.

There is a second aspect highlighted by the report: young people in emerging economies find themselves “trapped in a vicious cycle of working poverty.” That is, they are forced to work in conditions that are worse than those who don’t work or those who are inactive in more advanced economies. This occurs today especially in countries that are towing the world economy. In reality, the ILO document says, “the high employment-to-population ratios of youth in the poorest regions mean the poor have no choice but work.”

What to do? New generations today will not enjoy the system of social welfare which their fathers did. They will not have pensions, a social safety net, health assistance, cultural resources and all that we are used to calling the welfare state. To save what is salvageable, the ILO proposes the development of an integrated strategy for growth and the creation of jobs with a focus on young people, to improve the quality of jobs through strengthened labour standards and to invest in formation. A good program, on paper.

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