by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
If you’re looking for another reason to doubt the wisdom of making America look more like Europe, the latest Bloomberg Businessweek cover story should help. It documents the damage Greece’s failed policies have inflicted on its young people.
In a country of 11 million people, the economy lost more than a million jobs as businesses shut their doors or shed staff. Unemployment has reached 27 percent—higher than the U.S. jobless rate during the Great Depression—and is expected to rise to 28 percent next year. Among the young, the figure is twice as high. Meanwhile, cuts to Greece’s bloated public sector are dumping ever more people onto the job market. In July, 25,000 public workers, including teachers, janitors, ministry employees, and municipal police, found out they would face large-scale reshuffling and possible dismissal. An additional 15,000 public workers are slated to lose their jobs by the end of 2014.
Greece’s jobs crisis is a window into a wider emergency that threatens the future of Europe. Across the continent, a prolonged slump has disproportionately affected the young, with nearly one in four under the age of 25 out of work, according to the European Commission. (In the U.S., youth unemployment is 16.2 percent.) That understates the severity of the situation in Italy and Portugal, where youth unemployment rates have soared above 35 percent; Spain’s is 53.2 percent, the second-highest after Greece, at 55.3 percent. European Union leaders have announced an initiative aimed at guaranteeing that all young people receive a job, apprenticeship, or more education within four months of joining the ranks of the unemployed. Governments have pledged €8 billion over two years to combat unemployment in Europe’s worst-hit countries, and the European Investment Bank is offering €18 billion in loans to encourage hiring by small and midsize businesses.
Such pledges of help come too late for Greeks like Stratigaki, who are already spending what should be the most productive years of their lives poring over notice boards and alternating long periods of unemployment with all-too-brief periods of work. Absent a rapid and dramatic economic turnaround, an entire generation in Southern Europe faces years, possibly decades, of dependency and disillusionment—with consequences that can’t be measured in economic terms alone. “Our generation has depression,” says Stratigaki. “We are at the best age. We have the power to do everything. And we can’t do anything.”
Those who think the U.S. is nothing like Greece might want to revisit the warnings issued regularly from the group Generation Opportunity.