Monday, December 03, 2012
Maybe Europe Needs a Rooseveltian Response
For all of its other problems, there's one the European countries have to deal with and soon, youth unemployment. They even have a term for them, "Neets" (not in education, employment or training).
The official figure has fourteen million European young people who are neither in school or employed. The real figure may be much worse.
"The figures on increasing youth unemployment are shocking. But in the calculations, we generally only count the young people who are ready to work and who want to work. There is also an enormous group which is so demotivated that they are turning away from the labour market," says Massimiliano Mascherini of the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions, an agency of the EU, on the phone. He studied young people who are neither working, nor following education or training (also called "Neets"). He looked at the background and the behaviour of these “couch potatoes” and what they are costing Europe.
The results are worrying. Fourteen million young people sitting at home doing nothing in Europe. This constitutes 15.4 per cent of young people aged 15 to 29. Some are unemployed through their own choice or are travelling, but the majority are not. "They have little faith in institutions and their fellow man. They are socially and politically isolated. They also have a bigger chance of ending up mixing in criminal circles," says Mascherini.
They also take to the streets, fueling violent, destructive riots that have swept Britain, Spain, France, Italy and, most of all, Greece. They are the perfect fodder for political extremism.
Maybe what Europe needs is its own Rooseveltian Works Progress Administration.
The Works Progress Administration (renamed in 1939 as the Work Projects Administration; WPA) was the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of unskilled workers to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads. It also employed artists, writers, actors and directors in large arts, drama, media, and literacy projects. Writers documented local and state histories, artists painted murals and other works for new federal post offices and other buildings.
The WPA provided food for children and redistributed food, clothing, and housing. Almost every community in the United States had a new park, bridge or school constructed by the agency. The WPA's initial appropriation in 1935 was for $4.9 billion (about 6.7 percent of the 1935 GDP), and in total it spent $13.4 billion.
At its peak in 1938, it provided paid jobs for three million unemployed men (and some women), as well as youth in a separate division, the National Youth Administration. Headed by Harry Hopkins, the WPA provided jobs and income to the unemployed during the Great Depression in the United States. Between 1935 and 1943, the WPA provided almost eight million jobs. Full employment, which emerged as a national goal around 1944, was not the WPA goal. It tried to provide one paid job for all families in which the breadwinner suffered long-term unemployment.
Youth unrest around the world is a problem we ignore at our peril. We have to find ways to engage them, to being them back into our economies, even if that means sharing the pie to make it possible. This is one of the things you get to do when you reverse the massive, unearned transfer of wealth from the working classes to the rentiers that has been perpetrated so successfully over the past thirty years.