The number of unemployed young peopleworldwide is just slightly lower than the entire population of the United States of America. That’s almost a quarter of the planet’s youth. MassimilianoMascherini, a Eurofound official, told us that in 2010, the youth unemployment rate increasedto 32.6%, the highest level in the history of the EU.Since then, unemployment rates have fallen to 23.3%, remaining significantly disturbing. The infamous imperative “get a job” has never been more topical.
But simple unemployment statistics cannot convey the complexity of this phenomenon: the activity of young people in the labor market is characterized by various shades of grey. A new concept – coined in the UK in the late 1980s – has been adopted at the European level to capture an important segment of this population. They are NEETs, or young people under 30 who are not in employment, education, or training. There are 14.6 million of them. Statisticians make it clear thenon-participation of NEETs in the labor marketis the cause for a decline of just under 1% of Europe’s entire GDP—that’s over one hundred billion Euros.
My parents would have fallen under this category. Mom, while on her way to becoming a college professor, found a husband at age 19 and decided to drop out of college. Dad lost his job two years later and searched for work for years. And so the newlyweds moved in with Grandma. My Uncle Mario, disabled and unemployed since age 16, has lived at home all his life and been unable to seek out work opportunities. There were times where my family had to go without meals or beds for nights at a time—sporadically dad would find work, but the refrigerator would become empty as soon as it was filled.
As Arnstein Aassve, a professor at Bocconi University, explained at the conference, being a NEET can result in permanent psychological damage, decreased social and political participation, and a feeling of increased separation from society.
Having come from a family so harshly affected by unemployment, before the conference I wondered if such a seeminglysterile term like NEET could capture its profound human dimension.It seemed so inconsiderate to simply slap an ambiguous acronym onto an entire sub-culture of struggling youths and analyze statistics trying to measure their encumbrance to society.
It turns out, as our panelists showed me, that NEET is not impersonal after all. It actually seeks to convey the heterogeneity of the group. Not all unemployed youths are unable to find a job. The category also captures young people who choose not to work for various reasons, are victims of poverty and disability or whose skills, whether they are under or over educated do not match up with labor market demand.
Contrary to my initial impression, policy makers understand the human aspects of unemployment and are creating responses that recognize the human dimension. In fact, statisticians understand NEET as a very complex term, which includes many different kinds of people and takes their individual needs into consideration. As Mascherini explained, “all member states are actively engaged in designing and implementing measures aimed at integrating individual people with unique talents into the labor market.” One such measure is the Youth Guarantee Program, which guarantees young people that they will receive individualized training and opportunities for employment within four months of leaving the educational system.
Measures such as the ‘youth guarantee’ provide the jobless generation withimmediate relief, but specific policies are also being created tomakepermanentstructural changes as well. For instance, the European Commission created a “Europe 2020” plan with the aim of decreasing unemployment rates and preventing them from rising so high again. Jelenkowska-Lucà, a representative of the European Commission, explained the main targets of these measures, which were to “aim at arriving at 75% employment between the ages of 20-64, reducing the school dropout rate to 10%, and reducing the unemployed affected by poverty by at least 20 million,” all by 2020.