“All your life,” Argyro Paraskeva says, “you’ve been told you’re a golden prince. The future awaits: it’s bright, it’s yours. You have a degree! You’ll have a good job, a fine life. And then suddenly you find it’s not true.”
Or not so suddenly. Paraskeva left Thessaloniki University five years ago with an masters in molecular biology. Beyond some private tutoring, paid essay writing (“I’m not proud. But a 50-page essay is 150euros”) and a short unhappy spell in a medical laboratory, she hasn’t worked since.
Over cold tea in a sunlit cafe in Greece’s second city, Paraskeva says she has written “literally hundreds of letters.” Every few months, a new round: schools, labs, hospitals, clinics, companies. She delivers them by hand, around the region. She has had three interviews.
“I will go anywhere, really anywhere,” she says. “I no longer have the luxury of believing I have a choice. If someone wants a teacher, I will go. If they want a secretary, I will go. If they want a lab assistant, I will go.”
So would countless other young Europeans. According to data out on Monday more than 5.5 million under-25s are without work, and the number rises inexorably every month. It has been called the “lost generation”, a legion of young, often highly qualified people, entering a so-called job market that offers very few any hope of a job — let alone the kind they have been educated for.
European leaders are rarely without a new initiative. Last week, they pledged to spend 6 billion euros (US$7.8 billion) over two years to fund job creation, training and apprenticeships for young people in an attempt to counter a scourge that has attained historic proportions. This week, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is convening a jobs summit to address the issue. Yet still the numbers mount up. In Greece, 59.2 percent of under-25s are out of work. In Spain, youth unemployment stands at 56.5 percent; in Italy, it tops 40 percent.
Some commentators say the figures overstate the problem: Young people in full-time education or training (a large proportion, obviously) are not considered “economically active” and so in some countries are counted as unemployed. That, they say, produces an exaggerated youth unemployment rate.
Yet others point out Europe’s “economically inactive” now include millions of young people (14 million, according to French President Francois Hollande) not in work, education or training, but who, while technically not unemployed, are nonetheless jobless — and have all but given up looking, at least in their own country. Millions more are on low-paying, temporary contracts. By most measures, the situation is dire.
In the words of Italian minister for employment Enrico Giovannini this is a disaster all the more shocking because it is hitting Europe’s best-educated generation: In Spain, nearly 40 percent of people in their 20s and early 30s have degrees; in Greece it is 30 percent; in Italy, more than 20 percent.
The crisis is even more acute because of its knock-on impact: These are often young people with no pensions, no social security contributions, diminishing networks, limited opportunities for independence. High youth unemployment does not just mean social problems and productivity wasted; it means falling birthrates and intergenerational tension between parents and their thirtysomethings still living at home.