Jobless Youth in the US: Are we becoming more European?

This morning, on my way to Baltimore from Boston, this article by Daniel Henninger in the WSJ caught my attention. It’s about the growing new phenomenon in the U.S. of long-term joblessness, and more specifically, the danger of permanently high rates of youth unemployment. According to the latest statistics, the U.S. unemployment rate for workers under 25 years old is at a disturbing high of about 20 percent. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Satistics, figures for youth unemployment in July 2009 (the latest available figures) were the highest on record since 1948. The figures reflect the weak labor market. As the article explains:

Youth unemployment isn’t just a descriptor used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s virtually an entire field of study in the economics profession. That’s because in Europe, “youth unemployment” has become part of the permanent landscape, something that never goes away…

In the final month of 2009, these were the European unemployment rates for people under 25:  Belgium, 22.6; Spain, 44.5; France, 25.2; Italy 26.2; the UK, 19; Sweden, 26.9; Finland 23.5; Germany, at 10% uses an “apprentice” system to bring young people into the work force, though that system has come under stress for a most relevant reason: a shortage in Germany of private sector jobs.

As I make my way back to Rome, I am aware that this is part of what plagues Europe: Young people simply cannot find work. In Italy, this has contributed to the fact that people don’t marry and don’t move out of home — partly, or largely, because they can’t afford it.

As Heninger points out, the government stimulus money has mainly protected public sector jobs, a strategy that has failed in Europe — or, at least, has failed the youth of Europe. He asks whether the U.S. is there yet.

I don’t think we are, but I often wonder to what extent the jobless youth culture contributes to the many manifestazione that create so much chaos in Rome on a regular basis. After all, demonstrations give an illusion of meaningfulness and purposeful activity. I wonder, too, how the lack of meaningful work contributes to a society in reverse — where young people have a sense of entitlement and apathy, and how it correlates with other social phenomena, like the plethora of drug-addicted homeless young people that live and beg on the streets.

What do you think? 


Irene Lagan


Irene Lagan is the general manager of Guadalupe Radio in Washington, DC. She is a former collaborator for the English language section of Vatican Radio, has written for several publications, and holds a Masters degree in philosophy. She served as managing editor at the National Catholic Bioethics Center while in Boston, and has been published in Ethics & Medics, the National Catholic Register, Zenit, Franciscan Way, the Arlington Catholic Herald, and The Boston Globe. In addition, she has taught university students as an adjunct professor and has consulted in the area of communications and development for non-profit organizations.

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