Youth at stake

21.03.2011 - 21:04

Youth mobility appears to be increasingly common: one only needs to look at the Erasmus programme, or other scholarships which permit young people to move abroad. Whilst this is true, some young people have little choice in the matter. The current financial crisis pushes young people to leave their home countries, in order to find a job somewhere less affected by the crisis. This is no surprise, when in some European countries, youth unemployment exceeds 25 %. Unemployment is worse on other continents: in Tunisia, nearly 45 % of graduates were jobless in 2009 and by 2020 more than 50% of under-25s in the Arab world will be looking for a job. Yet unlike Europeans, these young people clearly face more difficulty in migrating. In both situations, however, youth are severely affected by the crisis. In Europe, one of the methods put in place to tackle the crisis was to extend the period of higher education. But is this simply an efficient means to postpone the inevitable?

Young people have, justifiably, been called the “blocked”, or even the “lost” generation. The metaphor couldn’t be clearer. Many young graduates are forced to migrate to more attractive, youth-friendly countries. The “Celtic Tiger” (the name given to Ireland during the 1990s, when it attracted many young people due to its dynamic economy), for example, has lost its charm. Around 10,000 Irish nationals leave the country each week. “A lot of people are saying that they’ll come back in five years, but I don’t believe it” states John Logue, from the Irish Union of Students. “This crisis will have an impact for another ten years, at least. Ireland will recover, but it is impossible to put your professional life on hold for ten years. These people will leave, settle in another country, construct a network of relations, start a family, take out a mortgage and will come back only for Christmas and St. Patrick’s Day.” The contemporary world does not seem well-adapted for young people. In the UK, increased university tuition fees has had an unexpected side-effect: many British students have decided to study abroad. In the end, Europe is becoming a confusing theatre of change, with increased mobility motivated by diverse and sometimes painful reasons.

Paradoxically, many young people stay longer living with their parents: choosing to study in their home city because they can’t afford an apartment or even food. They then stay even longer because they can’t find employment. Parents would like to get rid of their grown-up children and young people dream of independence and this situation represents a vicious cycle. Amongst those young people who do manage to leave home, statistics show that many of them come back before their mid-30s, finding themselves jobless and no longer able to pay the rent. According to a Eurobarometer survey in 2007, 70% of young Europeans cited living with parents for financial reasons. With the length of studies being extended, having children may soon entail a commitment to 30 years of funding.

The EU’s competencies do not extend to national-level youth unemployment. What can it therefore do to combat this problem? 2011 is the UN International Year of Youth, dedicated to inviting one and all to” promote the ideals of peace, freedom, progress and solidarity towards the promotion of youth development and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals”. All the best with that!

 Agnès Quatrevaux is Policy Thinker at ThinkYoung, the first European think-tank concerned with youth.