It is a fundamental principle of the Republic of China’s Constitution that citizens have the right to live, the right to work and the right to own property. And because providing a decent living environment is one of the government’s major obligations, people have the right to know whether the government has done its job right.
That is why the recent comments by TV host Sisy Chen (陳文茜) on the dire conditions facing Taiwanese youth and several stories in Chinese-language CommonWealth Magazine have generated heated discussion on Internet bulletin boards and some TV news programs.
In a commentary published on Feb. 15 in the Chinese-language Apple Daily, Chen said this country should feel sorry about what it has done to the youth, referring to what she perceives as a lack of social justice in both economic development and the housing market.
Chen was referring to Taipei’s out-of-control housing market, where prices have risen so quickly that few in the younger generation are able to purchase a home in the city. One of her points is that an incompetent government and interest groups have, since 2008, placed their desires above the general public’s interests, resulting in the hollowing-out of local industry, a society far poorer than before and falling competitiveness for the nation as a whole.
Chen’s article met with mixed responses, with some people echoing her view that surging home prices have topped their concerns for many years, while others criticized what they see as her hypocrisy, because she did not offer any solution. While she vented her anger, she was not calling for a popular revolt against this government; instead her article was simply concluded with a sigh of lament about “the youth.”
Criticism aside, Chen took note of the key issues facing younger people: low wages and a bleak future, which have been exacerbated by the government’s 2009 introduction of a NT$22,000 monthly subsidy for businesses to hire college graduates.
While Taiwanese firms continue to move overseas, meaning they are making smaller contributions to domestic hiring and wages, the government’s subsidy program has pushed more businesses to offer first-time jobseekers pay as low as NT$22,000 a month, deepening the stagnation of wages.
Following Chen’s commentary, CommonWealth published a series of stories about some young Taiwanese seeking entry-level employment in Singapore and how South Korea’s government assists unemployed young people in finding decent jobs overseas as part of its national development strategy, hinting at the sharp differences between those two nations and Taiwan in the treatment of the younger generation.
The issue of youth unemployment is much more severe than the overall jobless situation in this nation. According to the latest government data, the jobless rate fell to 4.02 percent in January, the lowest level since June 2008, but youth unemployment rate for the 20-24 age group was more than triple that of the whole workforce, at 13.18 percent, followed by 9.67 percent for the 15-19 age group and 6.84 percent for the 25-29 age group.
As in many other countries, youth unemployment is an issue unlikely to be solved in the short term, because it results from structural changes associated with the nation’s economic development in the past decade. The crisis is that as long as the number of young people stuck in working poverty grows, more will seek jobs overseas, which increases the likelihood of Taiwan becoming a labor-exporting nation.
Whether the nation owes the youth an apology is not important. What matters are the social implications, since higher home prices and stagnant wages reinforce economic divisions and income inequality, and an increasingly stratified society is no blessing to the nation.