Home economics: how 300 teenagers see their town

A 16-year-old winner of the SAS Young Economist of the Year competition, at Kilkenomics, explains his research into youth unemployment in his home town of Ballina, Co Mayo

Home truths: Joseph Morrin in Ballina, ‘a lovely town to live in and to visit’. Photograph: Henry Wills

Home truths: Joseph Morrin in Ballina, ‘a lovely town to live in and to visit’. Photograph: Henry Wills

 

I love Ballina, my home town, in Co Mayo. It is picturesque, with the beautiful River Moy running through it, and has few if any ghost estates. There are great sports facilities. I play mostly rugby, but there’s lots of variety. A 16-year-old from my year in school is playing for Wolves, who are in the third tier of the English soccer league.

There’s also a terrific community spirit. The annual salmon festival wouldn’t happen without the voluntary input of the townspeople. There are thriving industries, such as the Hollister pharmaceutical factory and Ballina Beverages, which makes Coca-Cola concentrate. Supermarkets include Tesco, Lidl and Dunnes Stores, and the local cinema has reopened.

It is a lovely town to live in and to visit, but it has a huge unemployment problem. Even at the height of the boom, in 2006, Ballina’s unemployment rate was almost 16 per cent, when the national average was about 4 per cent. We need companies to set up here.

I’m 16, the eldest of three boys, and last weekend, at the Kilkenomics economics and comedy festival, I was the joint senior winner, with Daniel Ferreira from Castleknock Community College in Dublin, of the SAS Young Economist of the Year competition. My project was about how the economic crisis is affecting young people in Ballina.

I have been studying economics only since September. We heard about the competition from our economics teacher, Brian Lacey, at St Muredach’s College, and I decided to enter. On October 24th I surveyed 300 young people, aged between 14 and 19, in the two main secondary schools in my town: 150 boys at St Muredach’s and 150 girls at St Mary’s. The survey was anonymous, to allow respondents to feel secure in answering questions about their families’ financial situations.


Emigration
A staggering 82 per cent of the participants said they intend to emigrate. I expected the findings to be bad, but not as bad as that.

I concluded that high unemployment harms the individual, their family and society in general. It can be in small ways, such as less pocket money for teenagers, and therefore less freedom, if their parents are unemployed. It can can also affect people’s attitudes to the future.

Four out of every five teenagers said that doing well in the Leaving Cert is important or very important to them, and nine out of 10 said they hope to go on to third-level education. A very alarming proportion of the participants – 78 per cent – said they were concerned about the cost of third-level education; that is a worry on top of trying to choose the right course and completing it.

Unemployment affects most families in Ballina. Since 2010 more than half of teenage girls and almost two-thirds of teenage boys have experienced someone in their household being unemployed. That statistic covers three years, so the person could have been unemployed and then re-employed, or could have had no work at all during that period.

Just a fifth of the 300 young people surveyed have have had paid part-time work. And it’s not because the other four-fifths are too lazy. Of the four-fifths who did not have a job, 69.2 per cent had applied for at least one job, and in most cases they applied for more than one.

Why did the 30.8 per cent who didn’t apply for any jobs not do so? More than a quarter put it down to the media reporting that there are no jobs out there. This perceived negative media outlook seems to influence how young Ballina people think.

In our house, my dad gets The Irish Times nearly every day, and the radio is always on for an hour in the mornings and half an hour in the evenings, to hear the news. All the talk of bailouts and so on can be relentless. It’s important to discuss – but not for hour upon hour on radio, every day; there has to be a little bit of hope. We also get the Western People once a week, and that carries a lot of positive news about sports and so on. So I like that.


Kilkenomics inspiration


Kilkenomics itself was inspiring. I chatted

to Dan Ariely, who is professor of economics at Duke University, in North Carolina, and is tipped for a Nobel prize for his work. I was also quizzed by Bill Black, a professor of law and economics at the University of Missouri in Kansas, and by the economist and broadcaster David McWilliams. I had to show my presentation, and I was asked my views and opinions about my project. McWilliams is going to visit St Murdedach’s, which is great for the school.

Economics has always been the most studied business subject at our school. So far we’ve been learning about microeconomics, including laws of supply and demand, and elasticity. A practical project like this was a welcome change. I learned that gathering data needs the co-operation of respondents and that analysing it takes a very long time.

I’ve also learned that a balanced regional development policy is vital to towns such as Ballina. There is a huge labour force here. What has the IDA been doing for the past three years to develop industry in the west of Ireland? Foreign direct investment outside Cork and Dublin has dropped from 37 per cent in 2010 to 23 per cent in 2012. The IDA could almost change its name to the Industrial Development Authority for Dublin and Cork Only. The west of Ireland is seriously neglected.

I wish the IDA would put Ballina at the top of its agenda when it sets up discussions with companies in the next few months. I’d like to see a company come in and employ a good few people – one that needs manual labourers rather than a software company.

I’d like to be optimistic about my future, but it’s hard. I’ve skipped transition year, and when I leave school I’d like to study economics, with luck somewhere in Dublin. By the time I come out of college the downturn might have been in force for 10 years. I’d like to think there will be work in Ireland, and I’d take it if there were, but at the minute it looks more like the US or Australia.


nJoseph Morrin’s Kilkenomics presentation is at

iti.ms/18vm47v

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