Youth Unemployment Crisis

Youth unemployment is reaching record levels around the world. Is the seemingly hopeless situation creating a lost generation and sowing the seeds of more unrest?

The 2008-2009 economic crisis hit young people hard, raising youth unemployment rates to record levels. And new reports show signs that the situation may get even worse.

Youth unemployment has become a truly global phenomenon. Consider these headlines from the Financial Times:

  • UK Grapples With Youth Unemployment (Aug. 13).
  • Jobless Generation Puts Brakes on US (July 30).
  • Hollande Labours to End Jobless Despair (July 26).
  • Young Italians Still Struggle to Find Jobs (July 16).
  • Algeria Deals Its Youth a Poor Hand (July 11).
  • Portugal PM Tells Unemployed to Look Abroad (July 3).
  • Soaring Youth Unemployment Stokes Fears (July 2).

The International Labour Organization (ILO), a UN agency, warned, “The world is facing a worsening youth employment crisis: young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults and over 75 million youth worldwide are looking for work.

“The ILO has warned of a ‘scarred’ generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world.” Around the world, 228 million working poor youth live on less than $2 a day.

Bleak prospects

The ILO issued a report Sept. 4 titled “Global Employment Outlook: Bleak Labour Market Prospects for Youth.” The ILO website summarized some of its findings:

  • “The impact of the euro crisis is expected to expand well beyond Europe, affecting economies in East Asia and Latin America as exports to advanced economies have faltered.
  • “In North Africa and the Middle East, youth unemployment rates are projected to remain above 25 per cent over the next years and might even rise further in parts of these regions.
  • “Youth unemployment rates are forecast to rise from 9.5 per cent this year to 10.4 per cent in 2017 in East Asia, with little change projected in Latin America and the Caribbean and in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Problems in Europe

The European crisis is highlighted by the fact that over 50 percent of young people in Spain and Greece are unemployed.

The EUObserver reported: “The rise in youth unemployment in some member states could pose a ‘serious threat to social cohesion,’ the European Commission warned Friday (31 August).

“‘EU institutions, governments and businesses and special partners of all levels need to do all they can to avoid a lost generation which will be an economic and social disaster,’ EU employment commissioner Laszlo Andor said in a statement.”

The Middle East

BloombergBusinessweek magazine reported on this in an article titled “The Youth Unemployment Bomb.” The article mentioned that it seems youth unemployment is easy to ignore, since young people generally have fewer commitments.

“But the failure to launch has serious consequences for society—as Egypt’s Mubarak and Tunisia’s overthrown President, Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, discovered. So did Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in 2009 dispatched baton-wielding police against youths protesting his disputed reelection. ‘Educated youth have been in the vanguard of rebellions against authority certainly since the French Revolution and in some cases even earlier,’ says Jack A. Goldstone, a sociologist at George Mason University School of Public Policy. …” 

“A demographic bulge is contributing to the tensions in North Africa and the Middle East, where people aged 15-29 make up the largest share of the population ever, according to multiple demographic sources. The Egyptian pyramid that matters now is the one representing the population’s age structure—wide at the young bottom, narrow at the old top. Fifteen- to 29-year-olds account for 34 percent of the population in Iran, 30 percent in Jordan, and 29 percent in Egypt and Morocco. (The U.S. figure is 21percent.)”

Where might this lead?

“Youth unemployment’s most potentially lethal consequence: jobless youths are more likely to engage in terrorist activities and crime, studies have shown,” wrote Michael Schuman in Time (“The Jobless Generation,” April 16, 2012).

Seeds of radicalism

Historians have long noted the connection between unemployment, financial insecurity and radicalism. Consider this description of the Great Depression: “Mass unemployment made insecurity a reality for millions of ordinary people. … In desperation, people looked for leaders who would ‘do something.’ They were willing to support radical attempts to deal with the crisis by both democratic leaders and dictators” (John P. McKay, Bennett D. Hill and John Buckler, A History of Western Society, Vol. II, 1979, p. 889).

Remember where some of those radical movements led. Soon the world was engulfed in war, with military production and conscription eventually employing millions of young people.

Will today’s seemingly hopeless employment picture fuel future radical leaders? Will unrest lead to popular support for strong leaders who will “do something”—and perhaps spark future wars?

Tribulation and solution

The Bible describes times of unrest in the world escalating into a time of trouble worse than any time that has come before (Matthew 24:21). Thankfully, Jesus Christ tells us “those days will be shortened” and He will rescue humanity from self-destruction (verse 22).

Jesus Christ will establish the Kingdom of God, a government that will bring solutions to all of man’s problems, including unemployment. The Bible describes a busy and productive world where all will find meaningful and profitable work. “They shall build the waste cities and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and drink wine from them; they shall also make gardens and eat fruit from them” (Amos 9:14).

Learn more about this future government in our section on the “Kingdom of God.”

About the Author

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett

Mike Bennett is editorial content manager for the Church of God, a Worldwide Association, in the Dallas, Texas, area. He coordinates the Life, Hope & Truth website, Discern magazine, the Daily Bible Verse Blog and the Life, Hope & Truth Weekly Newsletter (including World Watch Weekly). He is also part of the Personal Correspondence team of ministers who have the privilege of answering questions sent to Life, Hope & Truth.

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