Making a living

Young people across Europe face high risks of unemployment, precarious and menial jobs and social exclusion, despite vast public programmes designed to solve these problems. Meanwhile, young people themselves are exploring new paths to making a living: help the Council of Europe and the European Commission to think about the issue in new ways and come up with innovative policies.

Unemployment for people under 25 in the EU is currently at 21% [Eurostat], higher than in OECD countries (17%) and higher than the global average (12.6%). This number is much higher in some countries: 45 in Spain; 43 in Greece; 33 in Lithuania. Everywhere it is way above the all-age unemployment rate: in the average European country the youth unemployment rate is twice as high as its all-age counterpart. Also, young people tend to be the first out and last bank into jobs during recession times [ILO].

In Europe, one young person out of five is neither in employment, nor in education or training: while individual stories differ, it is hard not to think of these people – called NEETs by statisticians – as an unwanted part of the labor force, not belonging anywhere, not going anywhere. It gets worse: in the 2000s the percentage of NEETs increases with age; 30-34 year olds are much more at risk of being NEETs than 15-19 year olds. And worse yet: the European average hides much higher percentages for Southern European countries and for women. In Turkey, half the women between 15 and 34 are NEETs [Eurostat]. It seems that everybody is at risk of exclusion here: the young are in the line of fire, but just about any slightly disadvantaged social group is next.

What young people do manage to get is part time jobs, night shifts, temporary contracts (42% out of employed youth). Often they are overqualified for them [Eurofound]. Higher education doesn’t make it easier to find work though, but it appears to be one of the strategies for coping with uncertainty, at least for those who can afford staying longer in school. Others simply turn away from job searching and move into inactivity or think of emigrating, like the Britons. With inequality gaps widening almost everywhere in the world [OECD] and young people being at the lowest end of earnings scale, prospects of reaching their parents’ levels of well-being as they reach adulthood are grim. On the contrary, unemployment, low paid jobs and insecurity come with an increased risk of living in poverty [The Poverty Site].

Not being able to figure out NEETs has made observers come up with depreciating names (bamboccioni - “grown up kids” - in Italian, parasites célibataires - “unmarried parasites” - in French), so public dialogue is often reduced to pitying the lost, the postponed or the limbo generation. As young people express their anger on the street (like in Spain with the indignados movement, or in Greece), the pity turns into fear, with youth stigmatized as violent, lazy “looters”. This is the picture European institutions and national governments of Europe are seeing, and they are worried. The standard response has been to roll out measures to promote the integration of the unemployed and other disadvantaged groups (training, job rotation/job sharing, employment incentives, supported employment and rehabilitation, direct job creation and start-up incentives). 56 billion euro were spent on such programs in the EU-27 in 2008 [Eurostat]. Some claim these policies are not working; some that they are, and the situation would be even worse without them. What we do know is that the problem has not been solved.

Meanwhile, young people across the world are exploring new paths to making a living. Some turn to independent work, which is often more precarious but affords a greater freedom. Some emigrate. Others attempt to become entrepreneurs, encouraged by the availability of low-cost tools that the Internet offers to those who create a business. Some try to reconcile entrepreneurship with the desire for meaningful, socially useful work: among them the social innovation movement has risen to enjoy much popularity in Europe. The term refers to innovations in those fields - education, healthcare, mobility, poverty, social exclusion, environmental sustainability, and other public goods - which are usually the responsibility of governments or charity organisations. From micro-credit to Wikipedia, from time-banks to bike-sharing, social innovations are popping up all around us, and are changing the way we live, work, learn, travel, socialize and - most importantly - tackle some of today’s most pressing social and environmental challenges.

Generation of income is not necessarily the primary and exclusive reward of work. Individuals also derive a sense of identity, meaning, connectivity from their daily endeavors, which add to the financial motivation and make professional achievement a complex issue. This is also picked up by early results in the Edgeryders community.

Help the Council of Europe and the European Commission to think about the issue in new ways and come up with innovative policies. Choose a mission:

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