End the insane cycle of youth joblessness

Editorial of the Socialist

End the insane cycle of youth joblessness

“Workers were idle because firms would not hire them; firms would not hire them because they saw no market for their output; and there was no market for output because workers had no incomes to spend.” This is not a description of 2012, although it could be, but J Bradford DeLong, a former deputy assistant secretary of the US treasury, writing in the Guardian about the 1930s Great Depression, a “form of collective insanity”.

The Con-Dems ‘madly’ insist that continuing their cruel cuts in an attempt at deficit reduction is the key to the economy’s, and our, ‘salvation’ despite a double, if not triple, dip recession. Paul Krugman is just one of a growing number of economists who agree with the Socialist – that not acting to end youth unemployment is ‘insane’. He explains that “there is growing evidence that the corrosive effects of high unemployment will cast a shadow over the economy for many years to come”.

In a dazzling display of talent a new generation of Olympians is breaking records set by their forebears. By brutal contrast 75 million 16 to 24 year olds globally have been thrown on the scrapheap of unemployment with no improvement of the situation in sight.

In Spain the youth joblessness rate is 53%, with similar levels in Greece and Italy not far off. In the US 54% of 18-24 year olds were employed last year, the lowest rate since 1948. In Britain the youth unemployment figure is 21% and almost one in three black, Asian and minority ethnic young people is jobless.

The TUC has shown that the number of young people who have been unemployed for more than a year since 2000 has increased by 874% (from 6,260 to 60,955), going up by 264% in the last year alone. Fixated on further cuts, many governments’ only attempt to bring the unemployment figures down is by arguing that the data are flawed.

For young people there is also a pay crisis. The Resolution Foundation think tank believes that under-30s suffered a 10% drop in annual pay between 2003 and 2010. Poverty minimum wage levels have exacerbated this.

Perfect storm of misery

The misery does not end there. Working class, and increasingly middle class, young people face growing hurdles to education, not least the up to £9,000 university fees and removal of EMA student payments. Mounting student debt is combining with scarce access to council or any affordable housing and rapidly shrinking benefits.

Tory London Mayor Boris Johnson brags that 60,000 apprenticeship posts have been created in London. But even with this drop-in-the-ocean effort the devil is in the detail – a report has found that 70% of apprenticeships went to existing employees.

Tory MPs present a council tax benefit cut as an incentive to the unemployed to work but cannot hide the fact – there are not enough jobs, and certainly not enough good jobs. In April, ONS figures showed an average of 5.7 job seekers per vacancy -but jobcentre staff have explained that only about one in six of these is a real job.

What’s possible

The billions of pounds poured into the Olympics gives a glimpse of how a mass programme of public works could be unrolled, if there was the political will. For example, instead of watching the housing crisis gather steam, a socialist government would raise funds through democratic nationalisation of the banks and big corporations and a levy on the hundreds of billions of pounds sitting idle in the bank accounts and tax havens of big business and the super-rich. This could then be used to train a new generation of construction workers to build and refurbish much-needed homes.

We shouldn’t hold our breath that a future Labour government will act decisively on youth unemployment. Labour leaders have repeatedly committed to maintaining the Con-Dems’ cuts, including the increased pension age which punishes older workers while denying young people a chance on the job ladder.

Instead work should be shared out, without loss of pay, the retirement age lowered on a much-increased pension rate and a massive investment made in jobs in socially useful manufacturing and public services. It is urgent that the trade union movement comes forward with such a programme – to unite us, young and old, to fight all cuts.