Give jobs to the youth

Gordon Brown (Perspective)

How can the world avoid an explosion of youth protests in the coming years when we are already experiencing an epidemic of youth unemployment today?

And how can our generation — who fared better than our parents — begin to understand what it feels like for the coming generation who already fear they will do worse?

The global arithmetic of youth unemployment makes for frightening reading: the 81 million young people who are today out of work now make up the majority of the world’s unemployed.

Young people are two-and-a-half-times more likely to be out of work than their adult counterparts. Youth unemployment has now reached a staggering 50 per cent in Egypt and Tunisia, has risen above 40 per cent in Spain and Italy, and is approaching similar figures in Africa. Even oil-rich Saudi Arabia is suffering its worst ever rise in joblessness among young people. Across the West, in both America and Europe, official youth unemployment rates already exceed 20 per cent. Another 350 million will be added to the global workforce by 2020.

What the world is facing, in short, is an unprecedented crisis among young people without employment and without the hope of employment. The global downturn means not only that the availability of jobs is in free fall, but the potential for new job creation is declining, too.

In the West, the service sector — which used to create 90 per cent of new jobs — is barely growing, and the export sectors, which are growing, do not create anything like enough jobs to make up the massive shortfall.

So in the coming decade, an astonishing one and a quarter billion young people (1,250,000,000) are likely to experience a period of unemployment after they leave education. And in many parts of the world, young people who manage to find work discover that it does not lift them out of poverty: 150 million young people are today earning less than 10 dollars a week.

We know historically that the costs of being part of a lost generation are very high indeed: a person’s lifetime prospects can be irrevocably scarred when they are unable to find that first job. They enter the occupational ladder on its lowest rungs and often never catch up. Overall earnings across their lifetime are usually reduced. Young people speak of the effects of unemployment shadowing them even after they find work, having fundamentally damaged their confidence and self-belief.

Nor does the world seem to care very much that its young workforce has been left idle. In the current global downturn, it is young people whose needs are most neglected in the distribution of resources. Countries spend far more national income on their adult populations, particularly on health care (10 per cent across advanced countries), and pensions (around five per cent overall). Only 4.4 per cent of global income is spent on education and a fraction of that on youth employment, investment in opportunity neglected at the expense of spending on security. To downgrade education is not only socially divisive but bad economics: if the young continue to be overlooked, deprived of education, training, and work, the whole future of welfare spending will itself be at risk, with young people unable to contribute toward the health care and pensions of their elders. It is no wonder, therefore, that armies of young people have been protesting across the world.

Their marching cry is always the same, no matter what their language: that the people who caused the global crisis have not suffered, while the people who did not cause it have.

They feel not only frustrated with their lives today but — far worse — a sense of despair about their lives tomorrow. In the 2011 World Development Report, two thirds of young men identified unemployment and social injustice as the major cause of joining gangs and rebel groups.

Gordon Brown is a former British(prime minister Courtesy Khaleej Times

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