Youth unemployment is the most pernicious aspect of any recession. Being out of work, with little or no prospect of a job, can cause lasting damage to a young person’s confidence while reducing their opportunities to engage constructively with society. This loss of potential feeds into long-term unemployment or emigration and damages local communities. As a counter-measure, EU leaders have agreed to offer job opportunities, further education or training to young people within four months of leaving school. The scheme will operate from next year but preliminary indicators suggest there will be a shortage of education and training places in Ireland. It requires urgent attention.
The size of this social disaster in the making varies from country to country, which is one of the reasons it has not received proper attention. In Germany, youth unemployment stands at 8 per cent; in Ireland it is 29 per cent; in Italy and Portugal it nudges 40 per cent while in Spain and Greece it exceeds 50 per cent. The election of French president Francois Hollande last year brought demands for special EU funding and youth initiatives that were reluctantly agreed to by German chancellor Angela Merkel. At the same time, German finance minister Wolfgang Schäuble acknowledged that the battle for European unity would be lost if jobs were not found for young people.
The need for social solidarity within and between EU member states has never been greater. General unemployment averages 12 per cent, compared to 7 per cent in the United States. But the contrast between Spain and Greece, which report unemployment rates of 26 per cent, and Germany at 5 per cent, is dramatic. Providing €12 billion over two years to tackle youth unemployment is the least that should be done. Even there, the language used is ambiguous. The scheme is specifically aimed at 14-24 year-olds leaving education, not those already out of work. Young people represent the seed corn of society. All should receive special encouragement.