Grievances rise among young Europeans
Job prospects and dreams fade with crisis.
Two years ago it was called the “1,000 euro generation” – Europeans under age 30 who bounced around in short-term jobs that paid 1,000 euros a month.
Now, even that social label has been devalued. Today they are called the “700 euro generation” – young people entering what amounts to a huge, temporary workforce who can’t afford the life and security their parents took for granted.
Recession in Europe may hit hardest among the young – causing increasing worry among politicians about long-term effects. Unemployment rates are 20 percent to 30 percent for youth in Spain, Italy, France, and Greece – adding to an already tense situation. The plight of a 700 euro generation is a central problem on a continent where jobs are even more central to stability than in the more fluid US workforce, analysts say.
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As European politicians watched young people in Athens shattering windows and protesting this month, many wondered if it could also happen elsewhere. So far, the temperature has not reached a boiling point – despite small protests in Barcelona, Spain; Madrid; Rome; and Bourdeaux, France.
"I don't think this is a classically 'angry' generation," says Matthieu Angotti, of the Research Center for Monitoring Living Standards. "It's different today, but the worry and pessimism are growing."
So is the tinder pile of grievances. Jobs are fewer. Pessimism is deepening over unmet expectations. Divides are opening among generations. Europe's rigid employment systems are taxed, as are European families that bear the brunt of youths without work. Analysts say the financial crisis is forcing to the surface problems that have long been papered over – or that were seen as merely leftist ranting.
"We would be wrong to consider what's happening in Athens as an exotic upheaval in a setting of ancient ruins and blue sea," says the deputy editor of the Paris daily Liberation. "It's in Europe that revolts burst out ... Athens is not as far away as we think."
During the Athens rioting, French students outside the Greek Embassy in Paris expressed solidarity with Greek students. But when the shouting ended, many here said they were most upset about their own prospects: "We are further from, not closer to, real jobs," says Louis Degney, who attends the Sorbonne.
Malcolm Hammer, who helped organize student protests in Paris in 2005, calls this a "precarious generation." He claims some 1.1 million youths are now working in a low- or no-pay system of internships. "It is a huge labor force that underwrites the social safety net here at the expense of the young," he says.
There's evidence that jobs in many sectors are drying up. At a sports job center in Paris, a staffer says bluntly that when students ask how to find a job, he tells them to look overseas.
"A year ago, we had about 100 new jobs per month; now it is one job per week," says the staff member, who was not authorized to speak. "I tell kids to broaden their geographic horizon and look in Australia, Canada, the US, Switzerland – outside."
To be sure, dynamics behind the Greek riots aren't comparable to those in much of Europe. Greece, a more insular society, underwent a civil war in the 1950s and is divided between orthodox and leftist sentiments that run deeper than in most other EU states. Greek politics has been dominated for years by three main families; and its civil-society structures are considered less diffuse.