Youth Unemployment in Europe: 2017

europe's lost generation

Youth unemployment in the eurozone has been stuck between 19% to 25% for the past eight years. In Spain and Greece, it's north of 40%.

For comparison, youth unemployment in the U.S. is just below 10%.

The bleak numbers underscore the uphill battle many young Europeans face in finding jobs that match their aspirations and education.

The widespread rocketing youth unemployment rates are having a noticeable effect on culture, art, and society; meanwhile, pessimism is perpetuating the economic crisis

the root cause: globalisation? 

Of the 15 countries with the highest youth unemployment rates in the world, eight are located in southern Europe. Of the top 14 countries with the highest rates of pessimism in the world, seven are located in southern Europe. It is no coincidence that Greece, Portugal, and four others fall into both categories.

Spain, Italy, Greece, Portugal, and Croatia, just to name a few victims of the crisis, have all reached youth unemployment rates of close to 50 percent or more. These countries find themselves far above the EU’s average youth unemployment rate of 18.6 percent, and over the past 17 years their rates have been (and still are) growing. What caused this proliferation? Many nationals blame globalisation, international trade, EU policies such as economic austerity, immigration, and the general economic crisis.


A study conducted by Gallup in which people were asked to rate their future lives either as better or as worse than their current ones found that Europeans were the most pessimistic group in the study, which included 141 countries in Asia, North America, Africa, Europe, and Australia. Southern and eastern European countries were “in particular” more pessimistic. Gallup theorizes that this correlation may be linked to the economic crisis. 


The evolution of popular music is yet another reflection of the effects of the youth unemployment rate on cultural norms. In recent years, there has been a growth in the popularity of rap music, which, historically, has been a means to lament political, economic, and social issues. In Italy, Greece, and Portugal, pop had been the most common music style among the younger generations until relatively recently. Now, rappers (such as Fedez and Emis Killa) are slowly replacing pop stars.

Moreover, popular themes of these songs include suicide, justification of vandalism, complaints about politics and capitalism, hate towards elites and corruption, and a general sense of hopelessness for the future.

In an Italian rap song by Fedez, called Si Scrive Schiavitu si legge Liberta, the phrases “questo mondo e una prigione con la cella un po piu grande” (this world is a prison with a slightly larger cell) and “ma questa e la mia nazione che pesa sulle mie scelte” (but this is my nation that weighs on my choices) are just two examples of the types of statements that young Italians feel represent their current state of mind.

They believe their nation is what pushes them down. While this is a reflection of the contemporary state of mind in southern Europe, it has its own impact on the public. Negative songs are played in public spaces, parties, and shops. One could argue that an influx of pessimistic media may have negatively influenced cultural norms, feeding into the vicious cycle.

The city infrastructure is another emblem of cultural pessimism. An online publication explains that “Germany, Italy, Spain and many other European countries have a major problem due to the sheer scale of the graffiti.” The graffiti is not just a sign of widespread frustration. It is also used as a form of “sophisticated” protest of the economic and political problems.

While globalization, EU policies, and other factors may directly contribute to high rates of youth unemployment, a vicious cycle that perpetuates the situation has installed itself in southern European culture and society. High youth unemployment causes widespread pessimism which, in turn, results in shifts in popular music, art styles, and cultural norms. These changes then prolong and worsen the situation by perpetuating cultural malaise.


The lack of professional experience is a big obstacle that prevents young people from getting a job. Having less job-related experience than adult workers makes youngsters more vulnerable when there are lay-offs and decreases their chances to be employed for newly opened positions. As a result, young people are most likely to be the last to be employed and in the same time the first to be laid off. This makes the transition from school to the labour market almost impossible. 

Moreover, there is a growing mismatch between the skills that young people have and the positions that are offered on the job market. The low quality of education and the continuous expansion of the skill pool required for a job, leaves young people under qualified and without any work offerings. On the other hand, it is often the case that young people with higher education find it hard to find positions that suit their qualifications and skills, accepting work for which they are overqualified. The skill mismatch affects the job satisfactions and wages of workers and in the same time distresses the productivity of firms, while the qualification mismatch prevents countries from realising the full potential of their labour force.

In order to cope with the problem of high youth unemployment the EU has already adopted initiatives like the Youth Guarantee and the Youth Employment Initiative which have for a goal to provide funding and encourage Member States to take action by making it easier for young people to find jobs and provide them with vocational training. 

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