Youth Unemployment Line Circles the Globe

There's an unemployment line circling the globe that's about 80
million people long, stretching far into the next generation.

The International Labor Organization reports that
the youth unemployment rate around the world edged up to a record high
of 13 percent in 2009, more than one percentage point up since 2007.

Remarkably, relatively "advanced" economies have seen some of the
biggest jumps in youth unemployment. Across the Developed Economies and
European Union countries, close to 18 percent of youth are unemployed.
Spain and the United Kingdom show high rates of "discouragement" among
young workers slipping out of the workforce altogether, just as their
governments embark on fiscal tightening programs that could shed yet more jobs.

According to the ILO report:

Youth unemployment rates increased by 4.6 percentage points in
Developed Economies & the European Union between 2008 and 2009 and
by 3.5 points in Central & South-Eastern Europe (non-EU) &
[Commonwealth of Independent States]. These are the largest annual
increases in youth unemployment rates ever recorded in any region.

While an unemployment crisis is swelling among American youth, especially youth of
color, countless young people in poorer nations are far more desperate
for any work they can get in hopes of staving off destitution. The ILO
notes that "in developing economies, where 90 per cent of young people
live, youth are more vulnerable to underemployment and poverty."
Luckier young workers will see wages and hours cut. Those seeking
scarce jobs will be pushed toward precarious, informal-sector, rather
than work that provides a career path or at least a steady paycheck.

Women and girls, including many who are already relegated to informal and marginal labor, may see
a setback in progress on women's economic empowerment. In the Middle
East and North Africa, where unemployment is projected to increase
through 2011, there remains huge gap between men and women's
participation in the workforce.

These trends have wide ripple effects. "An inability to find
employment creates a sense of uselessness and idleness among young
people that can lead to increased crime, mental health problems,
violence, conflicts and drug taking," the ILO warns. In response to
financial crisis, governments may exacerbate the problem by cutting
vocational training programs. Access to health care could dwindle
further. Young women whose educations are disrupted by the crisis may
end up having children earlier. In turn, the ILO says, "The fact that
the pregnant youth is forced to terminate her education brings
longer-term consequences in terms of lost earning potential which in
turn affects investments in the health, nutrition and education of the
next generation of youth."

Young workers' struggles have aggravated the clash between social
pressures and financial realities. In Egypt, for example, many young
men are stuck in limbo, bogged down by bleak economic prospects, unable
to marry and start a family. In a 2008 article about growing religious
devotion among disaffected Egyptian youth, the New York Times'
Michael Slackman reported:

Depression and despair tormented dozens of men and women in their
20s interviewed across Egypt... who once hoped education would
guarantee him social mobility. Their stifled dreams stoke anger toward
the government.

"Nobody cares about the people," Mr. Sayyid said, slapping his hands
against the air, echoing sentiment repeated in many interviews with
young people across Egypt. "Nobody cares. What is holding me back is
the system. Find a general with children and he will have an apartment
for each of them. My government is only close to those close to the

That sentiment was echoed by Bimba, a 26 year-old college graduate
in Guinea, who explained his fading hopes in a United Nations
news report:

If change is going to come here, it is going to come with
violence. Me, I would take part. I could not ignore the chance to make
a change.... Ninety nine percent of my friends are in the same
situation as me. We are all tempted not to make change but just to
leave, to go to France or the United States. We see the television and
see many Africans in Europe. I had a friend in college who left in the
second year and now he has a villa and land here, while those of us who
stayed have nothing. I don't know anyone who has been able to achieve
the same things here. Here we just survive and get nothing for it.

The frustration isn't limited to youth in any specific region or
culture-it reflects the widespread collective disillusionment of a
dream deferred, as the promise of economic development shrivels into a
relic of past generations.

The ILO recommends various policy interventions, such as
targeted job training programs and infrastructure projects to stimulate
employment. But those measures depend on whether the global market
economy has the capacity to absorb the millions of youth whose
potential goes to waste each day--at a time when skilled workers are
critical for dealing with the economic and social challenges of

Even if the hardest-hit countries eventually see their markets
bounce back, the rising generation must still bear the weight of an
irrecoverable opportunity cost.

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