Is the US headed for permanent youth joblessness?

Daniel Henninger in the WSJ: Youth joblessness: the kids are not alright.

[…T]he aspect of this mess I find more disturbing is the numbers around what economists call “youth unemployment.” The U.S. unemployment rate for workers under 25 years old is about 20%.

“Youth unemployment” isn’t just a descriptor used by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It’s virtually an entire field of study in the economics profession. That’s because in Europe, “youth unemployment” has become part of the permanent landscape, something that somehow never goes away.

[…] Eight years ago, a bittersweet movie about this tragedy of fallen expectations for Europe’s young, “L’Auberge Espagnole,” ends with a bright young Frenchman getting a “job” at a public ministry, where on the first day his co-workers explain the path to retirement. He runs from the building.

In the final month of 2009, these were European unemployment rates for people under 25: Belgium, 22.6; Spain, 44.5; France, 25.2; Italy, 26.2; the U.K., 19; Sweden, 26.9; Finland, 23.5. Germany, at 10% uses an “apprentice” system to bring young people into the work force, though that system has come under stress for a most relevant reason: a shortage in Germany of private-sector jobs.

In the U.S., we’ve always assumed that we’re not them, that America has this terrific, unstoppable job-creation machine. And that during a “cyclical downturn,” all the U.S. Congress or the states have to do is keep unemployment benefits flowing and retraining programs running until the American jobs machine kicks in and sops up the unemployed.

But what if this time the new-jobs machine doesn’t start?

In the U.S., we’ve thought of youth unemployment as mainly about minority status linked to poor education. Not in Europe. German TV recently broadcast a sad piece on Finland, which has the continent’s most admired school system. It showed an alert, vivacious young woman—she looked like someone out of an upper-middle-class U.S. high school—roaming Helsinki’s streets begging waitress jobs, without success.[…]

Since 1990, roughly 80 million Americans have been born. They can’t all be organic farmers or write scripts for “30 Rock.”

Many upscale American parents somehow think jobs like their own are part of the nation’s natural order. They are not. In Europe, they have already discovered that, and many there have accepted the new small-growth, small-jobs reality. Will we?


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