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Europe’s Austerity Programme Spawns ‘Lost Generation’

PARIS, Apr 3 2012 (IPS) - The recent dramatic rise of youth unemployment across Europe – particularly in the Mediterranean member countries of the Eurozone most affected by the sovereign debt crisis and so-called ‘remedial’ austerity programmes – indicates that the continent is sacrificing its future on the altar of short-term budget consolidation.

According to official figures, the unemployment rate affecting people under 25 years of age has reached 50 percent in Spain, 48 percent in Greece, 35 percent in Portugal, and 31 percent in Italy. Youth unemployment is also high in Ireland (30 percent), France (23 per cent), and Britain (22 percent).

On average, 25 percent of European’s youth labour force is unemployed and yet another 25 percent only has a precarious, low paid job, even though most of unemployed young people possess high educational qualifications, including university diplomas.

In all these countries affected by high sovereign debt and economic recession, conservative governments have imposed drastic cuts in public spending, reduced social welfare programmes and pensions and increased taxes, especially those paid by consumers, among other austerity measures.

These programmes have deepened economic slumps and fiscal difficulties across Europe.

As the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) announced on Mar. 29 in its more recent economic assessment for the G7, the seven most industrialised countries of the world, “Our forecast for the first half of 2012 points to robust growth in the United States and Canada, but much weaker activity in Europe, where the outlook remains fragile.”

“We may have stepped back from the edge of the cliff,” the OECD’s chief economist Pier Carlo Padoan cautioned, “but there’s still no room for complacency.”

Padoan also warned that the eurozone’s three largest economies – Germany, France and Italy – may have shrunk by an average of 0.4 percent during the first quarter of the year.

The German economy already suffered a slowdown of 0.2 percent during the last quarter of 2011. Given the OECD forecast, such figures suggest that even Germany, the last standing economic powerhouse in an otherwise lethargic continent, might have fallen into recession – experiencing a negative growth rate for two consecutive quarters.

To confirm the crisis, the European Commission’s office for youth announced that youth unemployment across the continent went up to 5.5 million in January 2012, a 37.7 percent growth rate since the spring of 2008, at the beginning of the global financial crisis.

Other sources put this youth unemployment growth at a staggering 48 percent since 2008.

The office said that “Overall, young people account for one-fifth (21.3 percent) of the total increase in unemployment since 2008” in the EU.

Small wonder then that social scientists and politicians across the continent are talking about “a lost generation”.

In an editorial comment for the daily Saarlaendische Zeitung, German economist Fred Schmid described the European youth as the “zero generation – zero employment, zero income, zero perspectives.”

Ian Wright, a Labour Party member of parliament in Britain, also warned “that we … face a lost generation … if we don’t act now. If people don’t get a job, long-term unemployment leads to higher rates of depression, more divorces, and more cases of alcoholism. If there is one single thing which contributes to a declining and depressingly low quality of life, it is not having a job.”

Lack of prospects in Spain, Greece, Portugal and other European countries has forced youth to emigrate. The Spanish ministry of labour estimates that some 300,000 young university graduates left the country last year.

“Such a dramatic exodus of university graduates is a first in modern Spain,” minister Fátima Bañez told local press.

Indeed, during the past 15 to 20 years, Spain was a magnet for workers from developing countries, particularly from Latin America and Africa, but also from Asia. In two years, however, since the outbreak of the sovereign debt crisis and the collapse of the local real estate market, Spanish youth have either been demonstrating against local politics and austerity economics, or fleeing the country.

Thanks to this migration, Spanish has become the fourth most-spoken language in the German capital Berlin, after German, English, and Turkish.

The youth unemployment crisis is so severe, and affecting such a broad portion of the world, that the International Labour Organisation (ILO) has scheduled a youth employment forum next May.

The ILO estimates that young people are three times more likely to be unemployed than adults. “Over 75 million youth worldwide are looking for work,” the organization says.

The ILO has also 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.

The ILO’s general director Juan Somavia warned that this “labour market recession may last for a whole decade – it would be then a lost decade, with catastrophic social and political consequences.”

The crisis is affecting famiy lives in other unexpected ways. In Italy, for instance, youth end up living longer at their parents’ homes. Low incomes prevent youth from renting their own apartments, or financing their own households.

So far, there are no signs of change. All governments in Europe are insisting on pushing ahead with austerity programmes to stop international financial speculation against their credit-worthiness, and allegedly to consolidate their public budgets. At the same time, they continue to ignore the worrying social symptoms emerging all over the continent.

Only these symptoms, which erupt in the form of widespread protest, from the occupy movement in Germany to the Spanish indignados, suggest that the European youth, victims of a crisis they did not create and of counterproductive ‘solutions’, is not ready to give up its own future.

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