Youth is Not Served in Europe's Job Market
Best and brightest in Italy and Spain sink into a malaise.
In North America the grandparents of Gen-X worked hard to provide their children (the boomers)with a post secondary education - a key to financial independence. Gen-X like their European conterparts have inherited an economy "in which the older generation have eaten the future of the younger ones."
former Italian Prime Minister
LECCE, Italy - Working as an unpaid trainee lawyer, Francesca Esposito, 29 and exquisitely educated, helped win millions of euros in false disability and other lawsuits for Italy's social security administration. But one day last fall she quit, frustrated with the plight of young people in Italy today.
It galled her that even with her fluency in five languages, it was nearly impossible to land a paying job. She not only worked for free on behalf of the nation's elderly, but her efforts there did not even apply to her own pension. "It was absurd," said Ms. Esposito.
The outrage of the young has erupted, sometimes violently, on the streets of Italy and Greece in recent weeks, as students and more radical anarchists protest not only specific austerity measures in flattened economies but a rising reality in Southern Europe: People like Ms. Esposito feel increasingly shut out of their own futures. Experts warn of volatility in state finances and the broader society as the most highly educated generation in the history of the Mediterranean hits one of its worst job markets.
Politicians are slowly beginning to take notice. Italy's president, Giorgio Napolitano, devoted his year-end message on December 31 to "the pervasive malaise among young people," weeks after protests against budget cuts to the university system.
Giuliano Amato, an economist and former Italian prime minister, was even more blunt. "By now, only a few people refuse to understand that youth protests aren't a protest against the university reform, but against a general situation in which the older generations have eaten the future of the younger ones," he recently told Corriere delia Sera, Italy's largest newspaper.
Ms. Esposito was the first in her family to graduate from college. She has an Italian law degree and a master's from Germany and was an intern at the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg. It has not helped. "I have every possible certificate," Ms. Esposito said dryly. "I have everything except a death certificate."
Low growth and a corrosive lack of meritocracy have long posed challenges to finding a job in Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal. Today, with the added austerity, more people are left fighting over fewer opportunities. Younger workers struggle to enter the labor market against older ones already occupy¬ing precious slots.
A deep malaise has set in among young people. Some protest; others move to Northern Europe or beyond. But many live in their childhood bedrooms well into adulthood because they cannot afford to move out.
"They call us the lost generation," said Coral Herrera Gomez, 33, who has a Ph.D. in humanities but still lives with her parents in Madrid because she cannot find steady work.
Experts warn of a looming demographic disaster in Southern Europe, which has among the lowest birth rates in the Western world. With pensioners living longer and young people entering the work force later - and paying less in taxes because their salaries are so low - it is only a matter of time before state coffers run dry.
Because payroll taxes and firing costs are still so high, businesses across Southern Europe are loath to hire new workers on a full-time basis, so young people are offered unpaid or low-paying internships or temporary contracts.
"This is the best-educated generation in Spanish history, and they are entering a job market in which they are underutilized," said Ignacio Fernandez Toxo, the leader of the Comisiones Obreras, one of Spain's two largest labor unions. "It is a tragedy for the country."
New austerity measures in Spain, where the unemployment rate is 20 percent, the highest in the European Union, are further narrowing employment possibilities.
In Italy, Ms. Esposito is finishing her lawyer traineeship at a private firm in Lecce. It pays little but sits better on her conscience than her unpaid work for the government. "I'm a repentant college graduate," she said. "If I had it to do over again, I wouldn't go to college and would just start working."
New York Times
01 09 2011
Lucia Magi contributed reporting from Madrid,
and Gaia Pianigiani from Rome.