Angst and anxiety of an unemployed

The United States Bureau of Labour Statistics reported in January an official unemployment rate of 21 per cent for workers ages 16 to 24.

My generation was taught that all we needed to succeed was an education and hard work. Tell that to my friend from high school who studied Chinese and international relations at a top-tier college. He had the misfortune to graduate in the class of 2009, and could find paid work only as a lifeguard and personal trainer.  Unpaid internships at research institutes led to nothing.  After more than a year he moved back in with his parents. Millions of college graduates in rich nations could tell similar stories. In Italy, Portugal and Spain, about one-fourth of college graduates under the age of 25 are unemployed. In the United States, the official unemployment rate for this group is 11.2 per cent, but for college graduates 25 and over it is only 4.5 per cent.The true unemployment rate for young graduates is most likely even higher because it fails to account for those who went to graduate school in an attempt to ride out the economic storm or fled the country to teach English overseas. It would be higher still if it accounted for all of those young graduates who have given up looking for full-time work, and are working part time for lack of any alternative.

The cost of youth unemployment is not only financial, but also emotional. Having a job is supposed to be the reward for hours of SAT prep, evenings spent on homework instead of with friends and countless all-nighters writing papers. The millions of young people who cannot get jobs or who take work that does not require a college education are in danger of losing their faith in the future. They are indefinitely postponing the life they wanted and prepared for; all that matters is finding rent money. Even if the job market becomes as robust as it was in 2007 — something economists say could take more than a decade — my generation will have lost years of career-building experience.

As governments across the developed world balance their budgets, I fear that the young will bear the brunt of the pain: taxes on workers will be raised and spending on education will be cut while mortgage subsidies and entitlements for the elderly are untouchable.

It is easy to recognise the frustration of a generation that lacks opportunity. Indeed, the “desperate generation” in Portugal got tens of thousands of people to participate in nationwide protests. How much longer until the rest of the rich world follows their lead?

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