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Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Madrid in April under the slogan 'Youth with no future' to protest against Spain's high youth unemployment rate and government spending cuts. (SUSANA VERA/REUTERS/SUSANA VERA/REUTERS)
Protesters shout slogans during a demonstration in Madrid in April under the slogan 'Youth with no future' to protest against Spain's high youth unemployment rate and government spending cuts. (SUSANA VERA/REUTERS/SUSANA VERA/REUTERS)

Europe's lost generation: no jobs or hope for the young Add to ...

In Britain, they are known as the IPOD Generation – insecure, pressured, overtaxed and debt-ridden. In France, they are the Génération Précaire, young people whose best hope of starting a career is often a shaky temporary job.

Young Europeans have long contended with barriers that make landing secure employment more elusive than it was for their parents. Now, those taking their first steps into working life are doing so amid an economic crisis that has locked record numbers of them out of the job market.

As a result, more of Europe’s young are slipping into the ranks of the long-term unemployed, a situation that threatens to produce lasting economic and social problems.

Pointing to recent protests and demonstrations in Italy, Spain, Greece and Britain, the International Labour Organization recently warned of the potential for a generation of youth that is, at best, disheartened about the future and, at worst, angry and violent.

“It grinds you down, it really does,” said Barry Healy, 27, who’s been unemployed since he was laid off by a Dublin media firm in 2008. “When you’re not working, you’re a non-entity, you’re a statistic. You’re not really a person, if you know what I mean. People look at you a bit differently.”

In Europe, a record one in five under the age of 25 is out of work, though there are wide variations among countries. While youth unemployment is 9.1 per cent in Germany and 8 per cent in the Netherlands, it’s 48 per cent in Spain, 43.5 per cent in Greece and more than 29 per cent in Italy and Ireland.

Young people are often hardest hit in a recession, as employers grow more cautious about adding new staff, particularly inexperienced newcomers. But even before the current crisis, which has left countries teetering under the weight of heavy austerity measures, Europe wasn’t an easy place for young people starting out.

In many countries, the problem can be blamed in part on a surge in short-term temporary contracts that began in the early 1990s. In Europe’s heavily regulated labour markets, short-term work allows firms to add or subtract workers according to fluctuations in demand, without costly benefits and severance packages. Young people, particularly in southern Europe, flooded into these uncertain roles with the hope that they would eventually lead to more secure permanent positions. By 2007, nearly 55 per cent of youth in France and Spain were on fixed-term contracts or employed by a temporary work agency, according to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

For some, these jobs were stepping stones into permanent employment. But for others, especially low-skilled youth, these dead-end contracts made them vulnerable in tough times.

“In a place like Spain, for example, people who have a permanent contract have a really permanent contract,” said David Bell, an economist at Scotland’s University of Stirling. “Then there’s a whole bunch of workers on the edge, the temporary workers. This is where the young people are and they can be let go far more easily.”

And they were let go in massive numbers.

Since 2007, nine out of every 10 jobs lost in Spain have been temporary positions. Employment in these jobs has fallen by one-third, compared with a 3-per-cent decline in permanent jobs. Meanwhile, the number of long-term unemployed (those out of work for more than 12 months) has doubled to 40 per cent of all jobless workers. The picture is no better in France, Italy and Germany, where more than one-third of those unemployed have been jobless for a year or more.

And these figures understate the problem, observers say, because they fail to account for young people who have given up. By mid-2010, 12.5 per cent, or 16.7 million, of young people in OECD countries were neither in school nor employment or training. Of these, only 6.7 million were seeking a job – the other 10 million had abandoned the search.

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