On Friday may 27 2011, I witnessed how the Spanish Police in battle-dress evacuated the Plaça Catalunya in Barcelona. Youngsters had gathered on this famous square – probably inspired by the events in the Middle East and Northern Africa – to protest against the skyrocketing youth unemployment and the apparent lack of remedy. The atmosphere was that of a political rally mixed with a musical festival. Young people were debating about many topics, but most discussions were dealing with their future, given the high unemployment rate.
Youth unemployment in Spain was at 42,8% at the end of 2010. For the sake of comparison: Morocco was at 18,8%, Portugal had 23% and Greece was at 36,9%. (Source www.ilo.org).
The (weak) economic recovery seems to create jobs, also for youngsters. But the ILO warns that youngsters could get discouraged and stop participating to the labour market. This could be the case in those countries where statistics are not a high priority for governments and where registration as unemployed is no obligation , where there is hidden unemployment or subsidized employment, where there is no unemployment allowance, where participation of women in the labour market is low, … They stay at home or even end up in criminal activity, …
In Spain people talk about the lost generation. Unemployed young people cannot start with their lives; they cannot afford living on their own let alone buying a house. They are confronted with a grim future. Many of them have studied and realize they cannot find decent work. They end up in precarious employment situations, low paying jobs.
According to the ILO we need a government approach that generates sustainable job recovery and sufficient high quality jobs for youngsters. Having a meaningful job is of the greatest importance for people as it is a basis for mental wellbeing. A job generates income; it provides meaningfulness to one’s existence. One can make a difference, contribute, and acquire societal status through employment. Research shows that the lack of a job or losing it has a negative impact on mental health. For someone at the start of his or her career it means a very uncertain future.
What can we do about youth unemployment?
There is no miracle cure. But this is what governments should do:
- Make youth unemployment a priority;
- Make sure having a job is worthwhile. Reduce fiscal pressure on income through labour.
- Provide early work experiences for youngsters by combining education and work. Review your educational system to maximize these experiences.
- Make sure that people leave school with a degree and provide ways for catching up for those without degree.
- Make sure that companies are open for diversity and look at potential instead of at degrees or the match with rigid job-demands.
- Encourage companies to hire people that have no professional experience, even though they are less productive at the start or you risk losing them after a short time. Companies should consider this as a way of corporate social responsibility. Governments can give incentives.
- Provide early guidance towards the labour market for youngsters, starting at school. This should cover study choice, curriculum building, internship management, …
- If you have no opportunities for your young generation, then help them to emigrate and hope that they will return tou your country once things are getting better. They might remember that you’ve helped them. But deal with your brain drain.
<h3>Back to Spain</h3>
The Plaça Catalunya has been evacuated because there was a soccer match between Barça and Manchester United. It’s cynical that a soccer game – the fear for riots – comes before the protesting youngsters. Barça won and I think that the crowd on the square would have celebrated together with the fans. The square was empty at 8h30 but was filled again with young angry people by noon. People I talked to – both with and without a job – disapproved the approach of the government.
But the situation is indeed cumbersome. The government led by Zapatero has no miracle cure and is faced with many challenges. What is then left for the current generation of the PIGS-countries? Do they have the choice between unemployment and emigration? Will Spain sacrifice this generation and focus on the budgetary deficit. Will Spain create a future for its future generation? A social emergency plan is needed.