By Vasiliki Mitsiniotou
More than 4 million young Europeans are jobless and not enough is being done to help what is becoming a lost generation, experts say.
In 2013, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said youth unemployment is the biggest crisis facing Europe and urged other governments to do more, speaking before a summit to tackle joblessness among young Europeans. The economic crisis has intensified what was previously a chronic unemployment problem in Europe, especially in the southern countries.
According to latest Eurostat data, 4.287 million young people under 25 were unemployed in the EU-28, including 2.94 million in the eurozone. The lowest rates were seen in Germany (6.9 percent), the Czech Republic, and Malta (both 9.8 percent), and the highest in Greece (51.9 percent), Spain (45.5 percent), and Croatia (39.0 percent).
Stavros D. Mavroudeas, professor of political economy at the University of Macedonia in Thessalonica, Greece, explained in an email interview how we got to this point: “The global economic crisis back in 2007-2008 resulted in a series of regional crises, the most important of which is that of the eurozone. The European crisis revealed the structural problems of European integration. Particularly, the structurally inscribed predominance of the hegemonic euro-core and the inferior position of the euro-periphery (in which Greece belongs). The austerity adjustment programs that have been applied to many economies of the euro-periphery benefited the euro-core but aggravated problems in the euro-periphery. In particular, they have led to rampant unemployment and in ‘jobless recoveries’ (when there was such a thing).”
What’s more, youth employment conditions are fragile, tenuous and concentrated, according to the European Commission. In other words, the young are far more likely to be hired on temporary contracts than adults and in sectors which tend to be more sensitive to the business cycle: manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and hotels and restaurants.
“I worked in a restaurant in Germany with no prospect and in bad working conditions. Then I had to return home. I know that it is going to be very hard to get a job in Greece but I am hopeful,” said Manolis Gotsis, 24, outside the Greek Employment Organization (OAED) in Thessalonica.
Initiatives have been launched at the European level. Most of them through the EU Youth Strategy for 2010-2018, notably the “Youth Guarantee” program, try to ensure that young people are offered a job, further education or work-focused training for four months at the longest after leaving education or after becoming unemployed. Some are designed to encourage mobility, such as “Your First EURES Job”. Mobility lies at the heart of the Erasmus program, launched in 1987 to give millions of students the chance to pursue part of their studies in a university in a different member state.
However, “European programs on youth unemployment are short-sighted. They are about short-term, unstable, bad-quality jobs that mostly benefit employers who fire their employees once the funding stops,” said Mavroudeas.
He argued that the funds the EU is willing to provide are simply not enough,saying, “It’s like giving an aspirin to a patient that has cancer.”
Labor market institutions also play a significant role in explaining persistently high levels of youth unemployment, also suggesting that policies to address youth joblessness should be comprehensive and country-specific. Stavros Gavroglou, head of the Active Political and International Networks Department of the Greek National Labor and Human Resources Institute, said of youth unemployment in Greece, “it was always hard to deal with since the economy could not absorb the number of university graduates.” However, it seems that “there has been a slight decrease lately due to OAED efforts to follow through with the European youth programs.”
Moreover, the last six years of austerity policies have not helped the problem. “The three bailout programs implemented so far are all about debt and primary deficits. Employment is not an objective, it is not a decisive variable feature. Instead, there is an effort to create a new model: the flexible worker with low wages, insecure employment, and no social insurance. They apply this primarily to new employees and hence to youth,” explained Mavroudeas.
Perhaps young people should try on their own, but uncertainty prevails along with other problems. “The bureaucracy is a huge problem, and also the tax system especially affects small businesses. Even if there are European programs funding start-ups and innovative projects, the information about them has been insufficient,” said Vasia Ntoulia, 25, at a café in Thessalonica.
“Being unemployed results in [young adults] staying with my parents and having to ask them for money. Not pleasant for either party,” said Ifigeneia Athanasiadou, 24, sitting next to Vasia. Ιt is no wonder the young flee the country. According to official data since the beginning of the economic crisis, in 2010-2013 over 350,000 Greeks, or 3 percent of the population, have emigrated, most of them between 20 and 39 years old.
Tackling youth unemployment requires a long-term plan that includes young people. They are, after all, the ones that will shape the future. But for now they feel like the lost generation of today’s Greece. “I would like the thought that there is nothing for me here and it is not going to change any time soon to be eliminated from my mind,” said Ifigeneia.