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Occupy Europe: How a generation went from indifferent to indignant

Occupy Europe? From Madrid to Athens, young people facing a bleak future are casting doubt on European identity.

(Page 5 of 8)



Little things cost a lot for this generation: phones, train tickets, food. Twenty-five-year-olds compete with 40-year-olds for work. As Europe ages and budgets tighten, older generations want to keep their jobs. Politicians concoct "programs" to help youth, but they give concrete benefits to older generations who vote – bus passes, optical help, winter fuel, pension breaks. The young are, well, young, and considered more adaptable.

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Globally, only Southeast Asia has low youth unemployment. In Europe, figures show a rise in joblessness since the 2008 fiscal crisis began. In 2007, the overall jobless rate among youth was 14.4 percent, according to Eurostat, the statistical arm of the European Commission. But by 2010, it had risen to more than 20 percent. In Europe's southern tier it is higher. Spain's jobless rate rose from 18 percent to 41.6 percent among 18-to-24-year-olds. Only Germany saw a decline.

What's different in the US and Europe, from emerging economies, is a sharp lowering of expectations enjoyed by previous generations. Wendy Cunningham of the World Bank in Washington says the old social contract that college equals a job is fast disappearing. The days of "I have a degree in medieval studies, I deserve a job" are over, she says.

Whether the disillusionment will manifest itself in something more unruly is uncertain. Down the road, some do see trouble. In an off-the-record briefing, a senior analyst at Morgan Stanley told an under-35 audience that a generational clash in Europe – more pensioners and fewer youth to support them – is a "top" long-term worry at the firm.

In the May 2010 elections in Britain, Liberal Democrats captured student hearts with promises that university tuitions would not rise. The youth turned out. For many, it was the first time they had ever voted. But by December, the ruling coalition of Tory and Lib Dems raised tuition from £3,000 to £9,000 (US$4,700 to $14,000) a year. The shock ignited a massive student march through central London. Young protesters bused in from all parts of the country to demonstrate.

"Nations that have groomed a generation through a vast expense of higher education risk trouble if they can't deliver jobs and careers to that generation," something that dates back all the way to the French Revolution, says Jack Goldstone, professor of public policy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., who recently visited Athens and Cairo.

Yet unlike in the US in the 1980s, when edgy Generation Xers often blamed their granola-eating parents for their travails, Europe's youth don't fault their parents for their plight. Most see them as sympathetic and sacrificing. They point out that their parents are bewildered to find their offspring living at home at age 30 with a master's degree. (Studies show that 46 percent of Europeans under 34 live with at least one parent.)

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