Britain: Nearly 8 Percent Of People Out Of Work

Unemployment in Britain is at its highest level in 14 years. The downturn is affecting graduates, and non-graduates alike, sparking concerns of what some are calling a "lost generation" among Britain's young people.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

To Britain now, and how that country is coping with tough economic climate. The downturn has been especially hard on people in their late teens and twenties, even those who have higher degrees.

NPR's Rob Gifford reports from London.

ROB GIFFORD: Twenty two year old Becky Hadeker(ph) graduated this summer with a good degree from King's College, London, one of Britain's top universities. She is trying to break into the fashion world. And in previous years would likely have walked into a graduate level job. But currently, she's working as a shop assistant in a clothing store in London's Convent Garden market. And since March, she has been applying for full-time jobs.

Ms. BECKY HADEKER: I was applying for maybe two or three a week at that time. And I heard back from maybe two out of probably 20, 25. And it's really demoralizing.

GIFFORD: Two or three applications a week in March, lead to two or three applications a week throughout the summer, but still with no luck. Now, she says she feels she's just fortunate to have a job at all.

?????: In the shop where I work, there are probably, nearly ten of us here who have all got degrees, good degrees from good universities. I mean, there was a guy working with us last year as a (unintelligible). He had a Ph.D. and he was working in a shop in Common Garden.

GIFFORD: True to the Anglo-Saxon model it created, Britain's economy has traditionally enjoyed bigger highs than the more cautious economies of continental Europe. But of course, it has always had worse lows too, and that's true of this protracted recession.

And if it's hard to find a job with a college degree, it's even harder for people like 22-year-old Sophie Cosgrove(ph) from a housing project in south London, who left school at 16 with no qualifications. As graduates take lower paid jobs, that has made it harder for people like her to find work.

Ms. SOPHIE COSGROVE: When you're that age and you ain't got no qualifications, no place really wants to take you on. And if you've never had a job as well, and you're trying to ask for references, previous places you've worked - if you've not worked in any previous places, how are you supposed to get a job? No one's really willing to give you that chance.

GIFFORD: Sophie fell into a new category now known as NEET - that stands for Not in Education, Employment or Training - and among 18-to-24 year olds, the percentage of NEETs is up from 14 percent to nearly 20 percent. That's one in five employable young people unable to find work or get further training.

Not surprisingly, says Sophie Cosgrove, some of those 20 percent get into crime, and, since the recession began, the crime rate in many areas has risen.

Ms. COSGROVE: If you've not got no job, no income and you're trying your hardest to find a job here, if you can't do that, you're going to go and look for other ways to make money - whether that go sell drugs, whether that go out and commit crime, whether that go out shoplifting. And therefore it just creates that vicious circle. And once you're in that, it's hard to get out of that.

GIFFORD: Sophie and some of her friends have been fortunate. They were able to get into a training course at the Salmon Youth Center, a Christian organization that helps train young people. Here, Sophie is being trained as a youth worker earning some qualifications, and, ironically, working alongside some of the graduates who've had trouble finding work as well, says Volunteer Coordinator Ivy Chu.

Ms. IVY CHU (Volunteer Coordinator, Salmon Youth Center): We've been inundated, particularly in the last two months, with young people sort of up to the age of 30 who are desperate to just get some work experience, and they're now resorting to volunteer work and are happy to do anything.

GIFFORD: Head of careers advice services at Kings College London, Jenny Owen(ph), says undoubtedly it's a difficult marketplace. But she says there may be a silver lining to the recession.

Ms. JENNY OWEN (Careers Advice Services, Kings College London): Because people have had to be a bit more creative, long term, it will have taught them to appreciate those skills and to keep them up and to be able to keep, developing and moving with the labor market. And what we might actually end up with is a more flexible, more open-minded, more mobile workforce than we would have had, had they all walked straight into jobs with investment banks.

GIFFORD: Already, this semester, says Owen, the number of large companies coming to campus to recruit has increased, and that may slowly start to improve the prospects for graduates and so help job seekers right across the labor market.

Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.

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