The most recent Eurostat data – from spring 2012 – paint a stark picture: over 50 per cent youth unemployment in Greece and Spain, over 30 per cent in Bulgaria, Italy, Portugal and Slovakia and a European average of 22 per cent. The danger of a »lost generation« is no longer merely the writing on the wall, but is becoming a terrifying reality.
There are many reasons for youth unemployment: besides the general situation on the labour market, one might mention education and training systems, labour market and employment policies, but also the stratification and distribution of opportunities in society. As things stand at the moment, the escalating youth unemployment rates in many European countries can be attributed predominantly to both the global financial and economic crisis of 2007–2010 and its modulation in the ongoing crisis gripping the European Economic and Monetary Union. The policy of unrelenting austerity that has dominated European crisis management thus far can be held responsible for the most recent increase in youth unemployment rates in the abovementioned countries.
In a study for the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, Dr Hans Dietrich, Senior Researcher on Education and Employment over the Life Course at the Institute for Employment Research (IAB) in Nuremberg, analyses the background of the phenomenon of youth unemployment in all its economic, social and political aspects. Central to his approach is an empirical examination of the emergence of unemployment among those under 25 years of age in the past decade, the identification of those affected and contextualisation in terms of the economic cycle, demography and employment patterns. Looking at the figures confirms the suspicion that the crisis has caused a significant increase in youth unemployment, but also that rates vary widely within the EU: for example, in Germany, Luxemburg and Malta youth unemployment rates have in fact fallen since 2007, while in Germany, Austria and the Netherlands they are currently at a low of under 10 per cent.
The different points of departure and a host of specific national reasons for the level of youth unemployment make it difficult to come up with a universal European solution. A European emergency programme that makes funding available is very welcome. However, concentrating efforts on greater labour market flexibilisation and improved transnational labour force mobility as the simplest and most widely applicable solution will fall short. The study done by Dietrich drives this home with an analysis of the literature on possible areas in which youth unemployment can be tackled, identifying numerous national best and worst practices.
The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung would like to explore this approach more deeply and has commissioned 12 country studies on youth unemployment as follow-up to the present analysis. Experts from Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and the three Scandinavian countries Denmark, Norway and Sweden are analysing the country-specific reasons for and risks attached to youth unemployment. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung will publish these studies in early autumn 2012. The goal is to showcase policy recommendations and strategies for overcoming this alarming development, one which for some time now has cast a shadow over the younger generation’s attitude towards European integration.
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