Sunday, 13 January 2013


Much has been written in the last five years about the so-called 'lost generation', namely, young people who are highly unlikely to experience the kind of upward mobility that their parents and grandparents experienced. The most amazing aspect about all that has been written regarding the 'lost generation' is the abundance of analysis of the causes, but surprisingly very little about any solutions. Recently, a local journalist approached me and asked if he could interview me about the 'lost generation', stressing that he wanted me to focus only on 'what do young people do', not what are the causes of the problem.

Naturally, politicians speak opportunistically about 'the solution' to the youth crisis, arguing in favor of jobs training programs, tax relief to corporations, tax hikes on corporations, jobs creations in the private sector by offering incentives to employers, or jobs in the public sector by raising taxes on the wealthy. Academics are even more opportunistic in offering solutions than perfidious politicians, arguing that the answer is more education, more government grants to colleges and universities to enroll more students, more education, regardless of whether there are jobs for those people who graduate with the 'extra education'. Religious leaders at least offer hope by asking the young and their parents to pray and meditate so they can at least have inner peace, if not a career or a job that pays the bills. One could argue that the religious illusion is just as bad as the political or academic, but that is up to the individual to decide.

The world has suffered a dozen recessions, great and small, since the end of WWI, and in all cases the young people, from mid teens to mid-thirties, have suffered more than the rest of the population in terms of securing gainful employment. Invariably, youth unemployment runs twice the rate of overall unemployment. If overall statistical unemployment runs at 10% (real unemployment usually runs a few percentages higher), youth statistical unemployment would be at least 20%. Youth unemployment varies widely with Western countries and between them and developing nations. For example, youth unemployment in northwest Europe runs in the low teens, while it hovers roughly at 50% in Greece and Spain. The caveat about youth unemployment is that it is deceptive because a large percentage of young people are not in the labor market at all, invariably remaining dependents on parents or guardians, thus contributing to the so-called 'disguised unemployment'.

Besides the cold numbers that one can easily dismiss as the price for 'enjoying' the benefits of a free market economy under the neo-liberal model, there other aspects to the 'youth crisis' amid recessions.
The apparent lack of options for molding one's future based on the level of academic training drives many young people to despair. Because youth by nature necessarily entails a sort of naive optimism that has not been crushed by the experiences of the 'real world', economic recessions inculcate in young people everything from cynicism and emotional instability to nihilism and radical action.

There is a big difference in what people actually do and what they could be doing amid economic hard times. What actually happens to a segment of young people is that they stay idle and dependent on their parents and/or grandparents until they find gainful employment and move out on their own. Another segment lapses into a combination of vices that range from alcohol and drugs to gang activity or other illegal acts such as petty theft. Some studies indicate that there is a correlation between the rise in youth unemployment and the rise in a) crime, b) suicides, c) drug and alcohol abuse, d) emotional problems, extreme political activity that includes targeted or random violence in response to dire institutional conditions.

My contention is that economic recessions also yield a degree of intense creativity in every field in the arts and sciences. For some reason, human beings reach deeper when there is a crisis at the social and personal levels to bring out the most creative endeavors, partly as therapy, partly as a response to the crisis, partly as an existential statement asserting one's purpose in life. This is a good thing and needs to be pursued even more, given that it is constructive for the individual and society, while the five destructive behaviors I listed above only make the statement of despair.

Now, for all practical purposes, what can an individual do amid a severe economic crisis to better cope creatively and live in harmony with herself/himself and society?

1. more education, given that the higher degrees usually entail greater marketability.
2. more education of the kind that will yield a job, assuming the individual does not mind compromising her/his commitment to a field.
3. foreign languages and latest computer skills.
4. paid and unpaid internships.
5. volunteerism,  preferably in areas related to one's field of academic training.
6. part time job in any sector, just to stay active.
7. relocation to where jobs are - within the same country as well as globally.
8. focus on where the future needs of job market are.
9. take part in social/community organizations that are committed to activism of some constructive type, such as helping the disabled, a cleaner environment, etc.
10. Political activism at the grassroots level is a must for the responsible citizen who refuses to accept the dire circumstances of an institutional structure working against the hopes and dreams of young people.

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