Generation Jobless

Too many young people in both the developed and developing world are without work. The Biblical warning that idle hands are the devil’s workshop captures an important truth: Youth unemployment is a political as well as an economic challenge.

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MILAN – Nobody is immune to the consequences of an economic crisis. But some are much more vulnerable – and suffer far worse – than others.

Young people have been the main losers of the Great Recession brought on by the 2008 global financial crisis – and not just in the advanced world. Millions have been pushed into highly unstable jobs, condemned to indefinite unemployment, or forced to move abroad in search of better opportunities. As Jean Pisani-Ferry of France Stratégie, a French government advisory body, points out, it is “much worse to be young today than it was a quarter-century ago.”

Indeed so. The International Labor Organization estimates that, worldwide, 73 million people aged 16-24 were unemployed in 2014. That number has fallen from 76.6 million in 2009, when the impact of the 2008 crisis was still fresh; but the pace of improvement is not exactly encouraging. Simply put, around 45% of the world’s economically active young people are either unemployed or are living in poverty, despite having a job. And, given inadequate statistical reporting in many poor countries, where populations tend to be younger, these figures almost certainly underestimate the severity of the problem.

The economic plight of young people is a global phenomenon – and one that Project Syndicate commentators have addressed repeatedly in recent years. But not all regions of the world are equally affected. In the advanced economies, the youth-unemployment rate ranges from 7.3% in Germany and 11.6% in the United States to a horrendous 48.4% in Spain and almost 50% in Greece. East Asia has an average rate of 12%, while in North Africa and the Middle East it hovers at around 30%.