European Economic Crisis and Young People

Unemployment in the regions of the European Union in 2010 (Eurostat)

In Greece, the world saw a woman attempt suicide because of the severe lack of hope and opportunity brought on by the European economic crisis. An article by Bonnie Kavoussi in The Huffington Post explained that Lambrousi Harikleia and her husband climbed onto the balcony of their workplace and threatened to jump. At the time of this incident, they both worked for a soon-to-be shutdown state agency. This unfortunate incident ended without tragedy when Harikleia and her husband climbed back into the building after hours of pleadings and negotiation. However, these two people are not alone in their struggle and despair brought on by an economic downturn.

People all across Europe are angry and frustrated.  But they are speaking out.  Over much of 2011, the European economic crisis and the images of young people protesting and demanding answers have been covered and disseminated.  This crisis is not simply about bankers and world leaders coming up with agreements to drastically cut the budget while borrowing mountains of money to pay their nation’s bills.  It is about creating change, and for people in their late teens to early thirties, this is their time.  Yet they are told that their time must be put on hold, and no one is telling them how long they have to wait.  Many articles have been written about this crisis. According to an article in The Guardian by Ian Traynor, unemployment among Europe’s young people has soared by 50% since the financial crisis of 2008.  There are 5.5 million 15 to 24-year-olds without a job in the EU.  In early 2008 the rate was 15% and now it’s at 22.4%. Traynor writes that one of the core causes of the Europe’s current troubles is the loss of competitiveness.  Soaring debt in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy is also highlighted as a key reason for current employment patterns.

Wolf Richter writes in The Business Insider that optimism has been replaced by pessimism.  According to Gallup, 80% of the people in the EU have a negative outlook on their local job situation.  The following numbers are astounding: in Portugal, 84% thought it was a bad time to find a job; in Italy it was 91%; 92% in Spain, 93% in Ireland, and in Greece, 96% felt the same way.  “For young people, the vision of a good life that their society has imparted on them has gone up in smoke.  A bitter irony: it’s the best educated generation ever – and the most pessimistic,” writes Richter.  This irony is being lived out by young people who are ready to be productive members of society.  They want to use their education to improve themselves and the people around them.

The United States has a major stake in the state of the European economy.  The slow recovery in the United States is affected by the economic crisis in Europe.  Anthony Mason, Senior Business Correspondent for the CBS Evening News summed it up best during a June 1st newscast.  Anchor Scott Pelley posed the question, “…There are good things happening in the [U.S.] economy. Interest rates are at historic lows, inflation is almost non-existent, oil prices are dropping dramatically, which way is all of this headed?”  Mason replied, “It all hinges on Europe, Scott.  If they can stabilize the situation in Europe, if they can come up with a plan that eases the uncertainty… But right now, the uncertainty about Europe is what’s holding back hiring and what’s bringing the stock market down.”

Young people in America and Europe deserve to feel optimistic about their future.  Optimism is what drives generations to do better than their predecessors.  It’s not about giving the young people of the world a bright future on a silver platter.  People talk about the next generation stepping up and changing the world, right?  Well there’s no doubt that we live in a more well-connected and interdependent world than ever before.  This means that if young people today can’t find a way to get started, if they feel hopeless about the future, then everyone suffers because the people that must change the world for the better simply can’t.

One can make a good case that spending in the EU was done irresponsibly and now they are telling the young people that severe cuts need to be made, and that they have to sacrifice and share the burden.  Austerity is a word that has been thrown around quite a bit since this economic crisis began attracting international attention.  Just imagine wanting to contribute to the world, wanting to make things happen, earn a living, go after your dream, only to be told no, you’ll have to wait indefinitely.  This is the reality for millions of young people in Europe.  We have young people whose great ideas are being put on hold, whose innovative ideas and plans may never come to fruition.  This crisis isn’t simply about nations running out of money and finding austerity measures.  We’re talking about people who can’t breathe a sigh of relief.

I’m sure one day a movie about the European economic crisis will be made.  Maybe this period of time will be turned into a trope that will be revisited by filmmakers, artists, and writers.  Creativity can’t be squashed.  Austerity cannot take away people’s passions.  Once this crisis is over, the hope must be that people will step up and inspire the world.   These young people are reminding us that a crisis of the economy is really a crisis of humanity.

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Blog post by Steve Kim