When talking about youth-related issues in the European Union, ‘unemployment’ has become one of the buzzwords in the last few years. Since the Union was heavily hit by the crisis in 2007, the employment situation especially in the South has considerably worsened: More than half of young people cannot find decent work. What does this mean for the realities of young Europeans? How have their lives changed? What is their reaction? An insight in what is now known as the “Generation Crisis”
In 2011, Teresa moved from Madrid to Berlin. Just like almost all of her friends and thousands of young Spaniards, she left her home country in the hope of finding work abroad. Over 50% of people under 25 in Spain are without a job. Like Teresa, many of them have come to Germany, where the youth unemployment rate is just 7.6% the lowest among the EU Member States.
In order to limit work-related outward migration and to tackle the European-wide youth unemployment, the EU-28 established the €6bn heavy Youth Employment Initiative as part of the “Youth Guarantee” in 2013. It is an ambitious programme that strives for ensuring that all young people find appropriate work within 4 months after leaving formal education. However, 4.8 million people younger than 25 in the European Union are still jobless. A month ago, the European Court of Auditors even admitted to be unaware if the Youth Guarantee has provided a single job yet.
Against this backdrop, we invited 40 young people living in Spain and Germany to Berlin, to investigate, question and report the current (un-)employment situation in a one-week workshop called “Generation Crisis”. In order to break the wall of meaningless political statements, statistics and stereotypes, we tried to find out, what the current crisis really means for the lives of young Europeans. Therefore, our participants grouped up into mixed German-Spanish teams, interviewed journalists, discussed with politicians and trade unions, and confronted each other with their own realities.
One of them was Teresa.
When Teresa came to Berlin, she started working as a project assistant. After her 10 months contract ended, she worked as a waitress, as the job offers she’d hoped for didn’t come. She then started a new Masters and ended up living on welfare. One can ascribe this to the financial crisis. But one can also see the situation as the structural problem of a global labour market in which short-term contracts are the rule and internships offering sufficient salaries are an exception.
Temporary contracts – like Teresa’s project role – and atypical employment are among the main problems and causes of the European-wide youth unemployment, says Dr. Mariesa Sprietsman, scientist at the Centre for European Economic Research and co-author of the study Youth unemployment in Europe – Appraisal and Policy Options. She explains,
“If a recession comes, the burden of lost job places should not just be borne by the youth and those with precarious employment, but actually by all working people. Even those with a permanent position should share in it, and perhaps work less, or earn less.”
To prevent young migrating Spaniards from precarious job situations and exploitation, 34-years old Miguel founded the Grupo de Acción Sindical, a union-like organisation that campaigns for the rights of immigrant workers. Miguel himself came to Berlin a year ago after losing his job as environmental scientist in Spain.
Though as we discovered, there are also Spanish success stories on the German labour market: David Salcedo Rico came to Berlin in 2012, and now runs a Spanish delicatessen shop. He is convinced: “The crisis can be seen as an opportunity: If you have an idea, then try everything to realise it – as long as it is not too crazy.”
Peter Ehrlich, spokesperson of the European Central Bank, shares this optimism:
“I think that a lot of people just have to find the courage to start up something themselves, to take a chance, because later on something really big could come out of it.”
And how long will young Europeans still being affected by the crisis?
Mr Ehrlich is stuttering.
“It will unfortunately take quite some time”.
It seems likely that the period of uncertainly and insecurity of many young Europeans is set to continue. Even if the crisis abates and countries respond, the structural challenges of youth unemployment are likely to remain, and the impact for the current “generation in crisis” could be complex, damaging and long-term.
But the crisis has provided an opportunity for fascinating initiatives, new networks and strong bonds to form amongst Europe’s youth. As part of our project, young people from highly-affected Spain and almost not-affected Germany came together, to discover the crisis’ impact by telling the personal stories of those impacted. What came out is a wide range of articles, photo essays and short films they explain how it feels to be part of the “Generation Crisis”.
You want to learn more about Teresa, Miguel and David? And you’ve always wondered what the Berliner self-optimisation group is for? Check out our multimedia Online-Dossier at www.generationcrisis.org/dossier for the full versions of their stories.
Photos by: Evgeny Makarov (group photo); Luciana Centurion (of David); Pablo López Barbero (of Teresa).