Three Ways Europe Could Solve Its Youth Unemployment Crisis

What can be done to create more jobs
Employees of call center Webhelp in Etrelles, France Photograph by Jean-Francois Monier/AFP via Getty Images

Joblessness is ravaging the youth of Europe. The unemployment rate for people 29 and younger in the European Union is 19 percent, the highest in at least 10 years. In Spain, the figure is 42 percent. In Greece, it’s 49 percent.

The situation is even worse than numbers suggest. Ken Roberts, a professor of sociology at the University of Liverpool, says that young people lucky enough to have jobs are more likely than older workers to be underemployed—floating in and out of low-paid, temporary, and part-time jobs.

Although there have been periods of high youth unemployment before, “what’s new is the increase in the average duration of unemployment for young people,” says Ekkehard Ernst, an economist who studies youth unemployment. That’s the “most worrying aspect” of the problem, he says, because “the longer people remain out of work, the more unemployable they become.” Ernst says the youth unemployment rate is likely to worsen until at least 2019.
 
 
Ekkehard Ernst, author of the International Labour Organization’s 2013 report on global youth employment
“The crisis has accelerated a trend partly related to technological changes that are destroying entry-level, medium-skilled jobs ideally suited for people leaving school. There won’t be an improvement unless a two-pronged strategy is implemented. Economic activity must be stimulated through job guarantees and public investment, particularly in countries such as Spain that lack economic dynamism. The other big element is to improve the educational system in general and vocational training in particular. If this technological shift accelerates, as is to be expected, then young people need completely different skill sets to succeed in the labor market.”
 
 
Sonja Bekker, senior researcher in European governance and social policy at Tilburg University in the Netherlands
“The problem can’t all be blamed on the crisis. It also has to do with the labor market shifting to more low-paid, temporary, and part-time jobs. Even in the Netherlands, which has relatively low youth unemployment, there are still patterns similar to countries such as Spain, including increasing unpaid internships for people starting out instead of paying jobs. If growing job flexibility is here to stay because it helps companies compete in a global market by adapting quickly to changes in demand, then government policies should help people move from one job to another smoothly. That involves training to update skills. It also means welfare entitlements to make up for low wages that currently keep young people from supporting themselves and founding their own families.”
 
 
Jesus Solis Zamora, a 31-year-old working as a real estate agent while continuing to look for work as a biomedical physicist
“I graduated from the University of Madrid in 2012 and spent something like a year and a half looking for a job in the field of biomedical physics before I accepted a job as a real estate agent. Now I’m bringing some money home every month. I’m still looking for work in a laboratory or with a medical-equipment firm. At least this job has enabled me to acquire commercial skills. The economy is supposed to be improving, but I don’t see much happening in the way of job offers. The measures that the government has taken to cut the budget deficit and reduce labor law protections have had a huge social cost—it would’ve been better to support wages and employment. In the area of science especially, many positions have disappeared, because there’s no more money for research and development. These spending cuts are undermining areas that should be driving growth. An economy which offers no opportunities for physicists, which has no use for mathematical skills, can’t be sustainable in the long term.”

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