Opinion: Rising youth unemployment

POSTED: 11/28/12 2:16 PM

Youth unemployment in St. Maarten is a huge problem, but in Europe jobless youngsters are becoming a close to unmanageable situation. Trouw reported yesterday that a breathtaking 14 million young people in Europe are unemployed. Many youngsters are so demoralized that they turn away from the job market.

A European foundation that promotes the improvement of life and labor conditions says that figures about the rising youth unemployment are shocking.

The 14 million represent 15.4 percent of citizens in the 15-29 age category. Some of them are unemployed by choice, or they are traveling, but the majority is not that lucky. They have hardly any confidence in institutions and their fellow- human beings; socially and politically they are isolated. And they run a bigger risk of ending up the criminal circuit. This is a situation politicians and concerned citizens in St. Maarten will immediately recognize.

In Brussels, the European power center, the developments are eyed with increasing concern. Of course, the European decision makers are not primarily concerned about the wellbeing of all these young people. It is, as usual, about money. The unemployed youngsters cost the member states in 2011 €153 billion ($199 billion) while that figure was €119 billion ($155 billion) in 2008.

This is a conservative estimate according to Massimiliano Mascherini of the European foundation for the improvement of life and labor conditions. The amount represents only social benefits, not the costs of criminality and health care. It just goes to show how societies that do not pay sufficient attention to job opportunities for their young people are paying a hefty price for their attitude. This is a lesson St. Maarten ought to remember.

Ton Eimers, director of the Knowledge Center for Vocational Education and Labor Market says that under normal conditions the labor market absorbs youngsters that do not have diplomas. That is different now: all the jobs go to people with higher education. The youngsters that are now unemployed are the ones that would normally just qualify for a job – but not anymore.

And how does this army of unemployed youngsters behave? In Anglo-Saxon countries, in Central and Easter Europe they are passively at home, but in Mediterranean countries they become politically active.

In countries like Spain and Greece the youth is prepared to take to the streets. They feel that they are not represented by political parties and they stand up against that. They also have a tendency towards radicalism. If in those countries an extremist block emerges, chances are that it finds strong support among these youngsters, Mascherini says.

While Spain is often mentioned as the country with the highest youth unemployment, Mascherini says that the situation in Italy and Bulgaria is worse. In these countries education does not match up with the labor market demands. Youngsters in Italy have been sitting at home for years, a situation that also occurs in St. Maarten.

Eimers thinks that the difference between a passive and an active attitude has to do with numbers. If 40 percent of the youth in Nijmegen suddenly became unemployed they would take to the barricades as well. If you are one of the few, you go sit on the sofa at home being ashamed of yourself.

And that is the situation with many unemployed youngsters in the Netherlands. They have psychological problems, they are depressed and they find themselves often on the wrong side of the law.

Mascherini says that criminality among unemployed youngsters is a real concern. Research shows that these youngsters are vulnerable to addiction. From drug addiction they end up dealing drugs, and teen girls often end up pregnant.

There is yet another opinion: the labor market had changed, steady jobs are hard to come by, and youngsters who are not well versed in expressing themselves or who are struggling with the after effects of a troubled upbringing, become the victim.

The hard core of unemployed youngsters in the Netherlands has a low level of education and is vulnerable. The crisis makes that situation worse. The problems these young people will experience in a job situation do not come as a surprise. “You see it already happening at school. There ought to be an early warning system, Eimers says.

All this fits St. Maarten unfortunately like a glove. A pity that most of our parliamentarians are more interested in Parlatino meetings then in solving problems at home.


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