NEETs: Youth Social Exclusion
(article by Raül Romeva i Rueda, Vicepresident of Greens/EFA, and Delfina Rossi, adviser for economic matters, for the Publictaion ‘Reclaim the Future: ideas, analysis and policies on Youth Emancipation’,FYEG, 2013)
Youth unemployment policies are today on top on the political agenda. At least rhetorically, politicians of all colors mention in their discourses the huge challenge that youth unemployment means. Even Mr. Barroso, President of the European Commission, has been calling member state on the creation of job for young people in almost all its speeches during 2012. However, little change has been record. In fact, behind the speeches there is a classical cleavage: “ Young people argue with their parents, cross their legs, and chat when they should be working”, this was state by Socrates, 2,500 years ago and indeed, young people are seen as lazy, rebel and violent people that they don’t want to work. There are few of us that see youth not as a problem, but rather as a solution, while the problem is the dysfunctional economic and political system.
Today youth unemployment is used as an excuse to continue applying neoliberal policies such us the flexibilisation and precarisation of the labour market or the reform of the pensions system. They claim hiring and firing with a lower cost and paying lower contributions for pensions will actually contribute to reduce youth unemployment. The true is that young people in Europe suffer every day from the destruction of the welfare state, the privatization of basic services like water, the reduction on public expenditure and of course, the lack of jobs. Moreover, they point-out and criminalized young people who demonstrate or young students that decide to cut a road to protest for a better education. They want cheap workers. They want young people that accept mini-jobs or some internship or young people with high education able to work 24hs for a low salary. That is what Barroso is asking for.
One particularly group of young people in seriously risk of social exclusion are the so-called NEETS, Young people not in employment, education or training. At least not in formal education or training, which it doesn’t mean that they are lazy, they might be doing voluntary, care work or working in irregular situation, but definitely they are not able to earn any money and develop their life.
In a recent study develop by Eurofund, they point out the cost in terms of GDP that NEETS represent for European countries, where they state that “according to Eurostat, in 2011, 7.5 million young people aged 15–24 and an additional 6.5 million young people aged 25–29 were excluded from the labour market and education in Europe”. This figures means represents 13% and 20% respectively of each group of age and are higher 2-3 percentage points higher than in 2008, as a consequence of the crisis.
Clearly, there is a systemic problem and not a personal problem of each young person or each family, it is neither just a problem of the financial crisis. NEETs are a social phenomenal that not only generates a huge cost in terms of GDP, but demotivate people from its social, civic and political participation, and it push young people to a social exclusion situation, making real the adjective of “lost generation”. However, numbers might be impressive, and the Eurofund study shows that the 13.941.264 NEETS in the EU generate a cost of 153.013.053.902 euros, which worth the 1,21% of EU’s GDP.
Since the beginning of the crisis, Spain was the EU country which increase the most its NEETs population, in a 34,4% of youth were NEETs in 2011, meaning 1.6 million people, which cost to Spain in terms of subsidies and opportunity cost 15.7 billion euros. This number might have increase in the last year, despite the fact of having a EU Commission force task in Madrid trying to sort out the problem. However, the country which performed the worst in 2011 was Italy, with 2,2 million NEETs and a cost of 32,6bn euros, follow by France and then UK. (see the table behind).
NEETs are by definition a heterogeneous group of people, across and within each country. NEETs might be young early school leavers or high educated youngsters without jobs.
Nevertheless, NEETs figures help us to dimension how bad the situation is, for each single person and family and for the society as a whole. Before the crisis, young people tend to think that education plus effort where key to reach a job, nowadays that equation has been broken. There is also demotivation to continue study and poverty push young members of a family to get whatever-job or emigrate. NEETs are acting a reserve army of labour, contributing to the pracarization of the labour market for all workers and specially as a threat for youth in Europe so to accept any job at any condition.
Young people not in employment, education or training need a social answer. The first answer must be a change in the paradigm, a change on ideology towards Social Justice. In the second place, societies have to include other types of activies, such us voluntary work, care work, political and civil work as an asset and not as a cost of its GDP, allowing individuals to reach a holistic approach for its education and emancipation. In other words: spending public money in grants or subsidies for young people who might be doing self-organized social activities must not been seen as a cost. Thirdly, we need to reach a level of emancipation from capital where no reserve army of labour is needed. For that, a fair fiscal system that allows redistribution at the European level is crucial.
Lastly, policies have to become more plural and detect exactly which are the needs of each group, for that aim young people have be integrated into the policy making process. The proposal of a European guarantee for young people (offering after a maximum of 4 months of unemployment, an offer for a job, education or job training) should be implemented as soon as possible. However, we have to overcome the current cliché of austerity to allow public expenditure act as a social buffer, avoiding social exclusion and poverty. We cannot let the current young and future generations being lost; we can neither offer them just cheap jobs. We have to fight every day to create fair conditions in the labour market and in our education system, but also we have to fight against their ideology. We need to be convinced that we, the 99% of the population which include the NEETs, can live better in a better word, because we have the Plan B, where B stands for Social Justice.