Youth Without Work

ROME – Among the many devastating effects of the current global financial crisis, one of the most pernicious in the developed world is the upward trajectory of the unemployment rate for youth, which rose by six percentage points in the OECD area from 2007 to 2009, with Spain experiencing an alarming 42% youth unemployment rate in 2010. When young people cease to be the engine of an economy, long-run economic growth is endangered, and social unrest becomes a real threat to the democratic political order.

In this sense, Italy represents an extreme case, since even highly skilled young workers, though usually over the age threshold of the youth-unemployment rate (29.5% in the country), are being marginalized. Nevertheless, understanding this phenomenon and its political consequences sheds light on what other OECD countries might face in the near future.

As one of the fastest aging societies in the world, with an economy and a political system inaccessible to its young people, Italy has all the makings of a gerontocracy. According to a study by LUISS University, half of the country’s top business leaders and political officials are 60 or older. Moreover, the national statistical institute, ISTAT, points out that in 2009 about 60% of people aged 18-34 (and 30% among people aged 30-34) were living with their parents as a result of their inability to support themselves. Two million in the same age range were classified as NEETS (not in employment, education, or training).

The system is slowly cracking, and Italian youth risk becoming the first generation in modern history that is worse off than its predecessors. It comes as no surprise that 79% of the unemployment generated by the financial crisis is attributable to young, precarious workers. Even if the country is still far from the radical impulses of “1968,” Italy’s lockout of its young people sets the stage for a generational revolt.