Faced with a depressed job market, a growing number of young people continue to live at home, with serious implications for their independence, warns a new study by Eurofound.
As EU elections draw closer, reports measuring the social impact of the economic crisis in the EU are plentiful.
The EU agency Eurofound, the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working conditions, published its latest figures about the social situation of young people in Europe. The study shows “worrying trends”: the number of young people, especially young men, living with their parents increased from 44% to 48% between 2007 and 2011. The trend continues until age 30, in almost all European countries, including Denmark and Austria.
Figures also show that deprivation has increased for young people from all social backgrounds since 2007, and that the unemployed tend to feel not only more excluded, but show lower levels of psychological stability.
The report defines deprived young people as those who cannot afford to warm their house, buy meat or fish every second day and buy new rather than second-hand clothes (22%); it is also those who cannot afford annual holidays or invite friends over (27%). The proportion of young people experiencing serious deprivation has increased by six percentage points since 2007, the report indicates.
Combined to the official EU’s 23% youth unemployment figure - 55% in Greece, 53% in Spain – social exclusion is growing and not only in crisis-hit Greece or Cyprus. Sweden has also seen a “significant increase” among young people feeling marginalized.
“This report shows that the economic crisis has forced a growing number of young people to continue to live at home with serious implications for their independence, transition into adulthood and on their perceived levels of social exclusion,” said Anna Ludwinek, Eurofound’s research manager.
A jobless recovery
Despite a slightly improved macro-economic picture in the European Union, with the EU Commission forecasting 1.8% growth in 2015, social parametres such as inequality, unemployment and poverty risk have not followed a similar upward trend.
Last week, European trade unions met with the European Commission to present their own study “taking stock of five years of crisis management in the EU” and on the state of social Europe. What they reported was alarming: 18 out of 28 countries have seen their wages fall, and an increasing number of workers live in poverty. Consistent with previous studies, the unions also found that young people are the most severely hit.
In a report to be presented on 27 March in Athens, Caritas Europa, a network of Catholic charity organisations campaigning for social justice, has looked into the impact of austerity policies in seven European countries: Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cyprus and Spain. The conclusions are clear-cut: “It is recognised that young people entering the labour market during these years are being hit most severely by the crisis and receive least protection,” the report says citing data from the Social Protection Committee.
“Youth unemployment is a serious problem that will have lasting impact for a generation of young people with potential consequences for them and indeed for European society more generally, stretching even to the prospect of their poverty in older age.”
'Not a lost generation'
Researchers however refuse to use the “lost generation” rhetoric, considered as “negative and discouraging”, Anna Ludwinek from Eurofound said.
Even though European youth are victims of social exclusion, they are not hopeless. Ludwinek explains why “lost generation” is an inappropriate term.
“Many young people don’t feel actually excluded, but they feel that life has become very complicated, that their value is not being recognised, that they cannot find a quality job. That means that they are not disengaged. They don’t feel excluded, but they want change and they want to feel valued. That is why we don’t use the “lost generation” rhetoric, because it’s counterproductive”, Ludwinek told EurActiv.
This is further supported by the study’s findings about the European youth’s average optimism for the future, which has remained stable at two-thirds since 2007 for all age groups. However, optimism figures have dropped in certain countries, unsurprisingly those most hit by the economic crisis.
The research also draws attention to the fact that inactivity and unemployment have led young people to participate less in society through volunteering, social activities such as clubs or sports and even the use of internet has decreased, even though a “significant proportion” of young people “would like to spend more time on volunteering activities.”
Less austerity, more investments
As the trade unions before them, Caritas Europa has come to the conclusion that austerity policies are not the way out of the crisis.
Caritas’ crisis-monitoring report is highly critical of the European Fiscal Compact, which remains a source of tension between trade unions and governments to this day.
“The structures imposed by the EU’s new fiscal governance, including the fiscal compact, leaves little room for manoeuvre to national governments in relation to fiscal policy”, the Caritas report states, criticising the “institutionalisation of austerity” – cutting spending even in a depressed economy.
“Without a change of policy direction, this points to many, many more years of austerity with its dampening effects on growth and continuance of unemployment and reduction in services,” Caritas warns concluding that “countries with the scope to do it should opt for a slower pace of consolidation combined with policies that support growth.”
Trade unions share a very similar, if not identical, view on the way out of the crisis, arguing that investment - and jobs-driven policies should take the lead over austerity. Unions estimate that by investing €250 billion over ten years, 11 million new jobs could be created. The money could be collected from tax evasion and fraud among other sources, they say, and represents “just a quarter of what was spent to save the banks.”
- 27 March: Caritas Europa to present its crisis monitoring report 2014: "The European crisis and human cost"
- 4 April: European Trade Unions to organise demonstration in Brussels