Why is youth unemployment in Europe such a big problem?

Although the statistics vary in every European country, one thing is undeniable: something needs to be done about youth unemployment as soon as possible. Spain is one of the worst affected countries, with over 50% of 15-24 year olds currently out of work. This is a completely surreal statistic when you really think about it, and with many friends in Barcelona and Madrid, it’s a very real problem for a lot of people I know. It’s unrealistic to blame governments for every problem a country faces, but in Europe as a whole, the issue of youth unemployment does not seem to be at the forefront of politicians’ minds.

Youth unemployment can have massive consequences for a country – in both long- and short-term ways. In Spain at the moment, there is concern that the current generation of young people aged 15-24 will become known as the ‘generación perdida’, or the ‘lost generation’. Many of those who fall into this age category will never have a real ‘career’ in one field, as companies are reluctant to offer anything more than short-term contracts, and the proportion of young people who work over-qualified is worrying. Recently, a particularly worrying trend has come to light: young people leaving Bachelor’s degrees off their CVs when applying for jobs such as bartending, so that their future employer does not think it is just a holding job until something better comes along. Something is seriously wrong when people are actually downplaying their achievements just to earn some money. This age group is also now living at home for much longer, often until the age of 30, and they are therefore less independent. There rates of school dropout have also increased due to the economic crisis – when young people see that working hard and getting good grades just leads to unemployment, many think it’s not worth continuing with their education until the age of 18. This is something governments really need to address, as this is clearly one of the roots of the problem. There is also a certain amount of disillusionment with the education system – government cuts mean that teachers have bigger classes and are therefore able to devote less attention to each pupil.

It’s also not just us who are affected by youth unemployment – it is unlikely that the current youth of Europe will be able to support their parents financially in their retirement, as they will not have had stable savings throughout their adult lives.

The ‘brain drain’ is also a phenomenon that has seen in an unsurprising increase in the past few years, in Spain in particular, as the country has been hit especially hard in the area of scientific research. Due to a lack of funding, Spanish research centres have stopped employing so many scientists and engineers, and these young people choose to go to countries like Germany, where work is more readily available. However, this can have serious consequences for the countries from which the young professionals flee – in the future, when the crisis is over, there will be a large sector of top scientists missing, and those who leave are unlikely to return to Spain. It’s not just scientific research which is affected – the majority of my Spanish friends who are planning on becoming bankers, doctors and journalists want to study and then work in the UK or in America.

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