WNYC's Bob Hennelly is an award-winning investigative journalist. While at WNYC he has reported on a wide gamut of major public policy questions ranging from immigration and homeland security to power outages and utility mergers.
Last December in Tunisia, 26 year-old Mohammed Bouazizi set himself ablaze. He died from his injuries in the first week of January.
In a matter of weeks, the poignancy and despair of his personal narrative sparked a nation to rise in rebellion and throw off an autocratic ruler who had clung to power for decades thanks to U.S. patronage.ititit
Bouazizi was educated, but like tens of millions of young people around the world, he was not able to find a regular job. Bouaszizi improvised a living, illegally selling fruits and vegetables without the required permits.The BBC quoted Buoazizi's sister as saying her brother was in trouble because corrupt officials wanted to get a piece of his subsistence action. Bouazizi got slapped around by greedy officials who confiscated his inventory and refused to return a scale he needed to do his job. Bouazizi set himself on fire in protest. That fire is still burning across northern Africa.
In January in Algeria, several young people followed Bouazizi's path to self-immolation to protest chronic unemployment and a lack of access to housing. In India, another after a local politician's promise for a job did not pan out, another youth did the same.
According to the Carnegie Center on the Middle East in North Africa, two-thirds of the population is under 18. The Carnegie Center estimates the region "ranks amongst the worst in the world for youth unemployment, which approaches 30 percent."
We had a hand in the repressive social conditions these kids are overthrowing. For decades, American foreign policy looked at the region as a strategic source of oil, and whichever bullies could protect our access to that spigot, we would fund and arm. That was the "stability" we wanted. How they sorted out generational equity was not our concern.
As it turns out there are some things even the last standing super power can't calibrate.
Meaningful work, and the ability to honestly toil to sustain yourself and your family, is as essential to the human psyche as water and food. How else to explain the extraordinary hardship and dangers endured by the globe's migrant work force that traverses continents and great oceans for just for a day's wage?
The issue of chronically high and prolonged youth unemployment is global in scope, and it threatens the very stability of nation- states. The young question the value of a nation that acts as a parasite that feeds off of and kills individual initiative.
According to an August 2010 report from the UN's International Labour Organization, out of the more than 600 million economically active youth between the ages of sixteen to twenty-four, 81 million were out of work by the end of 2009 and that number of idle was expected to continue to grow through 2010.
Chronic unemployment among youth is happening even in parts of the world that are supposed to be recovering faster from the "great recession" such as Latin America. Sara Miller LLana in the Christian Science Monitor writes of what experts are calling a "lost generation" in Latin America. The UN International Labor Organization found that 20 percent of the young people in Latin America that would normally be in the workforce or in school are doing neither.
In 2009 it was estimated that the economic crunch in Mexico forced 700,000 young people to drop out of school. The UN estimates that in Argentina, Brazil and Uraguay those would be workers under 30 make up 60 percent of the unemployed. And similar troubling trends are reported in Europe that include evidence linking the chronic joblessness to an increased incidence of homelessness.
Increasingly politicians in Washington, who already have a six-figure job, see cutting of youth employment and training programs as a sure way to hold on to their sinecure.
Young people aren't as reliable as senior citizens when it comes to showing up at the polls, and they aren't known for their campaign cash largesse either. So in American politics they remain as a kind of an abstraction, unless they die serving the country.
"Hi, we are with the unemployed and under-employed youth of America. Is the Senator in?"
Shayne Henry writing for the New America Foundation, observed that during the last three years, youth unemployment in the U.S. was at an all-time high. "The rate of joblessness among individuals aged 16-24 is highest level on record." While that 16-24 age cohort makes up just 14 percent of the workforce, they now account for 25 percent of the unemployed and 20 percent of the long-term unemployed.
For America and nations with Social Security-type social contracts between the generations, this trend means that the next generation is sidelined just as their earning power is needed to sustain the nations' entitlements.
What good is this global market economy our leaders tell us must be serviced at all costs, if it can only produce great wealth for some, but not even an entry-level job for this planet's next generation?