Unemployed Youth: the Lost Generation

youthRecovery? What Recovery?

High youth unemployment is a defining characteristic of the current recession. Despite the so-called recovery, a fifth or more of young people under thirty remain unemployed. In most countries, youth joblessness is triple the general unemployment rate. In some regions with harsh austerity regimes, youth unemployment is increasing.

In the US the preferred approach to youth unemployment, both by government and the media, is to ignore it. Elsewhere the attitude towards youth unemployment is mixed. In Europe, the European Commission has appropriated $1 billion euros to address youth joblessness. Yet only Germany and Switzerland have come up with real solutions.

Pundits offer a variety of explanations for the stubborn problem of youth unemployment: globalization (i.e. jobs moving to the third world), automation (i.e. replacement of jobs with robots), the greed of baby boomers who refuse to retire (greasing the wheels for social security and pension cuts) and government policies that allow billionaires to suck all the money out of the economy for their personal pleasure.

An increasing number of economists see youth unemployment as symptomatic of structural economic changes related to the end of global growth. Despite all the corporate media babble about perpetual economic growth, the phenomenon is actually quite new. Prior to the harnessing of fossil fuels by the industrial revolution, all human civilizations were based on steady state economies.

Of the three documentaries below, the first, from Canada, is the best. Portraying youth unemployment as a permanent structural problem, it’s highly critical of the Canadian government for refusing to address it.

The four important points Generation Jobless (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 2014) makes are

1) by 2030 half of all the current jobs will be gone
2) the “lost generation” (the 20% of Canadians under thirty who remain unemployed) is highly unlikely to ever land permanent good-paying jobs
3) Canadian universities are training young people for obsolete jobs instead of offering them new skills needed in the present economy.
4) Canada’s student loan program is a fraud – students are pressured to take on vast amounts of debt on the promise of good paying jobs that don’t exist.

The film disputes the frequent claim that a large aging population is a drag on the Canadian economy – the real drag on the economy is the underutilization of Canadian youth. This has drastic implications for the future health of the Canadian economy. Most of a society’s wealth comes from the skills of its workforce.

This first documentary also highlights two examples of programs that are successfully cutting youth unemployment, one at the University of Regina (UR) in Saskatchewan and the other in Switzerland.

The UR Guarantee program, which promising all entering students will be placed in a job on graduation, has a 97% success rate. From day one, the curriculum for all students includes career counseling and career education, consisting resume writing, interview skills and networking. Students also participate in an apprenticeship program in their chosen field, thanks to a cooperative agreement UR has with local businesses. Finally, they get a guarantee: any graduate who fails to find work in six months returns for an extra year (free of charge) to further hone their skills.

In Switzerland, youth unemployment is 2.8% (roughly a tenth of other industrialized countries), thanks to a high school program that allows them to start an apprenticeship at fifteen. The Swiss Employers’ Association helps local high schools set up their apprenticeships, which include white collar fields, such as health care, banking and IT, as well as the traditional trades.

The 2013 BBC documentary Young and Jobless is less hard hitting. Unlike the CBC documentary, it fails to emphasize the failure of the British government to acknowledge or address the problem of youth unemployment. In fact, it tends to trivialize the problem by comparing superficial snapshots of youth unemployment in different countries.

That being said, there’s an excellent segment about lawsuits American young people have filed (and won) against corporations that have exploited them via unpaid internships.

I was also intrigued by the number of countries that deal with youth employment by encouraging young people to emigrate (as we do in New Zealand). In Spain, for example, there are specific programs to assist Spanish youth in locating jobs in the UK. In contrast, Irish youth are encouraged to emigrate to Australia.

Video 3 Young, Jobless and Living at Home is a 2014 BBC documentary about the “boomerang generation,” the growing tendency of young people under thirty to move in with their parents, either because they can’t find jobs or because they can only find low paid, part time and/or temporary work that doesn’t cover their living expenses. Radio DJ Grey James follows six unemployed youth for six months.

The statistics say it all: in 2014 20% of young Brits under thirty were unemployed but twice as many (40%) were living with their parents.

photo credit: Caelie_Frampton via photopin cc

Also published in Veterans Today

13 thoughts on “Unemployed Youth: the Lost Generation

  1. If they’re going to continue to insist that it is important for students to learn about whether or not George Washington had wooden teeth or if he chopped down a ‘cherry tree’, then they should also insist that the students learn how to make dentures and learn horticulture. Apprenticeship programs are sorely needed in American schools.

    When I was in high school, because the majority of my courses were in business, I was able to leave school early and work at the college that I would soon be attending and this would also start my resume. My cousin excelled in woodshop and he left school early to go to a job working in the carpentry field. I don’t think that every school district in every state has this kind of setup. It is sorely needed.


    • You and your cousin were very wise to pursue a high school curriculum that made you employable. Many teenagers have difficulty making decisions like this without guidance from parents or teachers. In Seattle they have a program called Operation Running Start where you can transfer to community college in your junior year to do a vocational certificate. However it’s my impression that very few cities have programs like this.

      I personally feel American teenagers are being cheated when they’re denied the opportunity to do apprenticeships in high school. It’s even worse for university graduates – not only are they unemployable but they’re $50,000 in debt on their student loans.


  2. DrB. Tubularsock sees “unemployment” not as a bad thing but as a possible way to a new view.

    The structure works this way now: crap schooling, stupid office job, long hours, no benefits, a boring worthless life leading to substance abuse……. death.

    But what happens if by sitting around with no job people come up with a new way?

    What new way? We’ll never know if people spend all their time following the same warn out path.

    Like a possibility.

    Now it set up so you make just enough money to not have time to think.

    A park bench ………. think new.

    Happy New Year DrB!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m with you there, Tube. Work sucks. People weren’t cut out to do boring pointless work 40 hours a week for a paycheck. It’s something they trick us into doing. And I agree this period of mass unemployment is probably a blessing in that a whole bunch of people will figure out new ways to live.

      Happy New Year to you. 2015 will be a great year for social change. I can just feel it in my bones.


  3. Rise of the entrepreneurs: small and home businesses are important parts of alternative solutions, however corporate-government does not want the competition to their control and their taxation with many regulated barriers to entry becoming ever greater challenges to the freedom of the People.

    Governments’ policy solutions will be to hire, tax and ration, as in war and martial law.
    The past world war demonstrated the institutional ability to address these problems with authoritarian rule…

    We need to share awareness and implement alternative solutions now, prior to the collapse into the official declaration state-of-emergency.
    Embrace complementary currencies, community farms, food gardens, P2P exchange networks, off-grid energy usage, and other creative DIY efforts.

    – Self Organizing Communities Can Thrive In The Next Age –


    • Thanks, Ron, I think non-corporate self organized communities are a vital part of the solution of the mess we’re in. That’s what we’re doing here in New Plymouth. People are very sustainability-oriented here and we have a time bank, as well as a local complementary currency, seed saving swaps, crop swaps and several community orchards and gardens. We’re ready, in other words, for the official collapse.


  4. Yes, a massive global problem. In the US my own college-educated son graduated in 2009 and joined the Army in 2010 to solved his first unemployment cycle. He excelled in the military structure and was discharged in 2013 only to face another round of unemployment. His intended two-month stay with his father has turned into a nearly two year habitation. When work finally came, it was so few hours at such low pay as to be insulting. He is doing better now but he is not at all using the skills and talents he developed in college. So many youths are in this circumstance.

    Here in Morocco, it is the same. I have spoken to highly educated youth whose only option after college was to drive a taxi. This is shameful. It is like saying our world has no future, because these brilliant ones ARE our future and they are being denied the opportunities to gain the skills they will need to lead us in the years to come.

    Thanks for addressing this painful subject. It’s not only their generation that is lost and losing — it’s ALL of us.


    • Your son’s experience seems pretty universal among young people his age. What I find really tragic is the tremendous loss of skills it represents. At the same time, I agree with the point Tube makes: we’re all brainwashed into believing we need to go to work everyday. There’s growing evidence this is incompatible with our biological nature. Prior to the agricultural revolution (and the advent of class society), human beings practice horticulture by creating food forests emphasizing perennial plants.

      There was relatively little work required before the ruling elite started confiscating the products of our work. One person could produce enough food to feed up to six people working a maximum of 4-5 hours a day (with 1-2 of these hours devoted to harvesting).

      The experience of modern permaculture communities tends to bear this out.


      • More people are catching onto the truth that growing food does not have to be a grueling, time-devouring activity. I have enjoyed reading about how the ancient Vedic cultures used permaculture methods to sustain themselves over generations by co-creating Family (Kin) Domains. This information came to me through the Ringing Cedars of Russia series (Anastasia books) written by Vladamir Megre. I highly recommend them. Whether fiction or fact, there’s much valuable information in them.
        My son is a talented artist. The world is losing his valuable skill set while he “earns his living” patrolling a shopping mall as a security officer. This kind of thing is indeed tragic, as you say.


        • We have a number of certified permaculture courses here in New Plymouth, and I, too, am surprised by how little time it takes to grow food. Recently I have learned how to eliminate the need for mulching, weeding and frequent watering by growing undercrops, such as clover, alfalfa or violets. The violets grow wild here and don’t need to be planted.


          • Lucky you — wild violets — how amazing and wonderful. I love them and they perfume the air as you walk along. There is a fledgling community starting in Senegal by some friends I met here in Morocco. They are working the land with perma-culture techniques. I hope to visit there one day but their initial investments are reaping great results. Thank you for all you do to bring awareness to so many about so many issues,Alia


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