Foreign and Defense Policy, Europe and Russia

Europe’s next Lost Generation

Onlookers to the European debt crisis have been fairly silent about what may be Europe’s most troubling problem: the proliferation of systemic unemployment among youth.

The unemployment rates for youth ages 16-25 in various countries are charted below. As you can see, they are substantially higher than their historic norms, and in some countries, half of the workforce under the age of 25 is unemployed. It’s little wonder that more than 50 percent of Europeans between the ages of 18 and 34 still live with their parents, and 67 percent say the primary reason they can’t move out is “material difficulties.”

 Youth Unemployment Rate in Crisis Countries

The bigger cause for concern is that, long term, the Europeans will find themselves without a stable workforce. European youth are increasingly susceptible to learned helplessness such that even if economic opportunity were robustly returned to the eurozone, it is unlikely that a young, skilled workforce will be capable of seizing their chance at success. European policymakers are obsessed with the present for good reason, but they ought not to forget that their highest obligation is to future generations. The poor policy environment of the present—rigid labor markets, structural unemployment, and high taxes—combined with a lack of principled leadership is sending exactly the wrong message to Europe’s next Lost Generation.

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