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Grievances rise among young Europeans

Job prospects and dreams fade with crisis.

(Page 3 of 3)

Intrepid Italian graduate Elena Benigno came to Paris last year from Turin. Her three languages helped her get a job at Disneyland Paris for three months. She then went home. None of her fellow graduates had found permanent work, either. She is back for a Christmas stint at Disney. Her hopes to get a job at an art gallery here were dashed when she and the gallery discovered a rule requiring her college to have an agreement with a French employer.

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A chief problem that Mr. Hammer and Hans Dietrich, of the Institute for Employment Research in Nuremberg, outline is a category called "technical employment," which brought large protests here in 2005. It is a system increasingly adopted around Europe in which employers turn to new graduates to do the same work as regular employees, but on short-term contracts with little pay and no expensive social taxes for employers. This system began here in the late 1990s as a stopgap for high numbers of job-seekers, but it has since become regularized. The numbers of French youths involved rose from 800,000 in 2005 to 1.1 million to 1.4 million today, depending on whether one adds the category of "apprenticeships." It is a huge figure in a country with a workforce of 25 million.

The French education system is only now starting to address the issue of major fields of study that students like, versus majors that are more vocational but have better job prospects. "This is a central question for society," says Hammer. "We don't have ghettos for young people – they don't exist outside society. But they aren't really allowed in unless they abandon the dreams of their parents. At the same time, it is families that are paying the price of this 'waiting room' of labor. Our generation loves its parents, but there is a strange tension as well."

The abandonment of dreams of "the good life" is an issue mentioned by many sources. The gap between expectations imparted in early schooling – and reinforced by parents and society – is only now undergoing a change here. Mr. Angotti says that the changes faced by the young "has happened in one generation. When you go through a series of bad internships, it has an effect."

"We now need to be more honest about what to expect, and stop the illusion that anyone is going to be able to afford an iPhone," says Frederic Bidault, a political blogger in Paris.