Youth Unemployment On The Rise In Europe

A United Nations agency has recently projected that the jobless rate for 15- to 24-year-olds in the eurozone will hover around 22 percent for the next four years. Host Audie Cornish talks with NPR correspondents Sylvia Poggioli and Philip Reeves about the rising rate of youth unemployment in Europe.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

Twenty-twelve was a year when we began hearing of a lost generation in Europe. Concerns about Europe's younger generation escalated as European unemployment reached a record high. A result of this year's European financial crisis: nearly 19 million people out of work across the eurozone, and hardest hit were those under 25. Nearly a quarter of young Europeans are jobless.

We're going to spend a few minutes today looking at the unemployment situation in Europe and how that might change in the new year.

Joining us now, NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome, and NPR's London correspondent Philip Reeves. Both have traveled much of the year, reporting on the Euro crisis. Welcome to you, both.

PHILIP REEVES, BYLINE: Hi, Audie.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI: Hi.

CORNISH: And we'll start with you, Sylvia. The worst economic news from Europe came out of Spain and Greece, where overall unemployment stands around 25 percent. And among young people - is this right - 60 percent?

POGGIOLI: Yes, it's certainly closer to 60 than 50 percent in Greece and Spain. And it's over 30 percent in Italy and it's been growing across southern Europe every month. The major cause is, of course, three years of recession worsened by German-dictated draconian austerity measures, and rigid labor markets that make it hard to get full-time employment. And behind that is an outdated southern European welfare model that favors older workers, mostly men, with full-time jobs.

The mood across southern Europe is really very bleak. Everywhere I've gone, I've heard young people tell me they have no sense of future. And this is...

(LAUGHTER)

POGGIOLI: ...the best-educated generation ever throughout the region. They don't all react in the same way. In Italy, where there's been stagnant growth for a decade, there's a sense of fatalism. But in Spain and Greece, we've seen the loudest protests because they'd got from boom to bust much more rapidly than anywhere else.

CORNISH: Any sign of relief or reform from lawmakers in these countries for youth unemployment?

POGGIOLI: Well, not likely, unless there's a sudden and unexpected shift toward economic growth across the southern region of Europe. Meanwhile, the ripple effect will continue as the best educated young seek jobs in the more prosperous north. Already, some half-million southern Europeans have arrived in Germany this year.

Analysts are all warning that youth unemployment is Europe's ticking bomb. The longer young people stay jobless, the more they lose valuable opportunities to improve their skills. And this risks having a wider impact on southern European economies, which could fall behind even further once older workers retire over the next decade, to be replaced by today's young who will have had insufficient training and work experience.

CORNISH: Philip, looking at a country like Ireland - also has seen a debt crisis this year and the unemployment rate there is close to 15 percent, double what it is in the U.S. - what's the picture there for young workers?

REEVES: The picture has actually been very graphically illustrated by the scenes at the international airport in Ireland's capital, Dublin, in the last few days. Young people have been pouring in from as far afield as Australia and Canada. These arrivals are just some of the 150,000 young people who've emigrated from Ireland in the last few years - since the crisis began, really - because of the lack of jobs and opportunities at home.

They're returning home to Ireland, visiting for the holidays. And there is reportedly some pretty emotional moments in the arrivals hall at the airport, as they're reunited with their families. Some of them are bringing home babies born abroad who they're introducing to their grandparents for the first time.

The latest figures from a few months ago in Ireland show that an average of 1,600 people are emigrating every week. A lot of them are young people and that's an awful lot for country of four and a half million. It is counterbalanced to some degree by immigration. But basically this is a return to mass emigration that Ireland experienced during some of the bleakest periods in its history. And there are real concerns about the long-term damage this is doing to Ireland's economy and its society.

CORNISH: Philip, what does this mean for countries with healthier economies? For example, Germany, I mean, are they affected by this growing number of unemployed Europeans?

REEVES: Well, Germany's mighty economy is the engine that powers Europe. Unemployment there is low, around five and half percent, and just eight percent of the German young are jobless. This has a lot to do with a very strong apprenticeship system that's in Germany, whose roots go way back in history. About one and half million young people there go through the system every year. It would provide training in anything from engineering to violin making.

It's a collaboration between industry and vocational training schools. And the European Union is urging others, other nations to follow this example, so as that they do far more to enable young people to transition from school to work, or to training, or into further education.

CORNISH: Finally, a question for both of you. Are there any events coming up in 2013 that you think could have a big impact on the European labor market? Sylvia, I'll start with you.

POGGIOLI: Well, you know, with elections in Germany next fall, there's very little likelihood of a change or softening of Germany austerity policy toward southern Europe. As it stands now, Europe seems to be breeding a lost generation. And the only hope on the horizon is a revived American economy that would once again be a locomotive to the European and global economy.

CORNISH: Philip?

REEVES: I think it's also important to remember that at a lot of the austerity measures that were announced by various countries - as they tried to sort out their economic disarray, when the crisis first really hit and to stop their borrowing costs from spiraling further - have yet to kick in and they're going to hurt. Add to that, the unwillingness of the banks to lend is making it very hard for national governments, but for business and for the public to dig a path out of trouble.

And as for young people, you know, the big worry centers around the effect that long-term unemployment, long periods of unemployment which some of them are now experiencing in very large numbers, as we said, the effect that that's having on their future prospects. Being out of work for ages doesn't look good to a prospective employer. And it can be pretty damaging to long-term prospects for this young generation.

CORNISH: NPR's Philip Reeves. Philip, thank you.

REEVES: You're welcome.

CORNISH: And NPR's Sylvia Poggioli in Rome, thank you.

POGGIOLI: You're welcome.

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