Businessweek’s cover article this week is on the global crisis of youth unemployment. With protests led by young workers demanding democracy in Egypt, what is it this generation cannot do? And what is society loosing by derailing their opportunity to enter the labor market?
From Cairo to London to Brooklyn, too many young people are jobless and disaffected. Inside the global effort to put the next generation to work
“An economy that can’t generate enough jobs to absorb its young people has created a lost generation of the disaffected, unemployed, or underemployed—including growing numbers of recent college graduates for whom the post-crash economy has little to offer. Tunisia’s Jasmine Revolution was not the first time these alienated men and women have made themselves heard. Last year, British students outraged by proposed tuition increases—at a moment when a college education is no guarantee of prosperity—attacked the Conservative Party’s headquarters in London and pummeled a limousine carrying Prince Charles and his wife, Camilla Bowles. Scuffles with police have repeatedly broken out at student demonstrations across Continental Europe. And last March in Oakland, Calif., students protesting tuition hikes walked onto Interstate 880, shutting it down for an hour in both directions.
More common is the quiet desperation of a generation in “waithood,” suspended short of fully employed adulthood. At 26, Sandy Brown of Brooklyn, N.Y., is a college graduate and a mother of two who hasn’t worked in seven months. “I used to be a manager at a Duane Reade [drugstore] in Manhattan, but they laid me off. I’ve looked for work everywhere and I can’t find nothing,” she says. “It’s like I got my diploma for nothing.”
While the details differ from one nation to the next, the common element is failure—not just of young people to find a place in society, but of society itself to harness the energy, intelligence, and enthusiasm of the next generation. Here’s what makes it extra-worrisome: The world is aging. In many countries the young are being crushed by a gerontocracy of older workers who appear determined to cling to the better jobs as long as possible and then, when they do retire, demand impossibly rich private and public pensions that the younger generation will be forced to shoulder.”
So here is the main question… ignoring the frame of a choice between protecting seasoned workers or nurturing young workers… what can we do to expand job opportunities for young workers? And what can unions do to prevent a lost generation?
The end of the article returns to the standard anti-worker propaganda that minimum wage laws and unions decrease hiring. We know these to be empirically false, but if young workers are looking for institutions to blame how do we make sure this propaganda does not take off and young workers see the labor movement as part of the solution?