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European youth 'consigned to the scrapheap of unemployment'

Communist affilited youth chant slogans while participating in the PAME (Panergatiko Agonistiko Metopo or All-Workers Militant Front) union rally at Syntagma Square in central Athens on July 11, 2013.

This week, Marketplace has been looking at youth unemployment in Europe. The numbers are terrifying. Among 18 to 24 year olds in Greece, 60 percent are jobless. In southern Spain, it's 74 percent. 

Marketplace's European correspondent Stephen Beard has been visiting some of the hardest hit countries. He says the youth of Europe are the victims of circumstance. 

"I was very impressed by the quality of these young people, their intelligence and their energy," Beard says. "I was also extremely shocked that this continent seems to be consigned so many of them to the scrap heap of unemployment."

The recession in Europe has been longer and deeper than in the U.S., and what the high rate of youth unemployment is clearly the effect of prolonged economic downturn. But also, as Lizzie Crowley of the Work Foundation in London points out, the labor markets, especially in southern Europe, tend to be pretty rigid.

"They don't have the kind of flexible labor market that like, for instance, in the U.S., where's there's a whole range of different types of working -- temporary, part-time -- they don't have that type of range of opportunities," Crowley says.

European countries are being forced to shake up their labor markets by making it easier to fire, and therefore, hire workers. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development has just reported that labor reforms in Spain are helping create 20,000 new jobs a month.

Furthermore, there's been a big wave of immigration of young people from -- especially northern Spain, Italy, and Greece -- to some of the more buoyant parts of Europe. And, in the case of Spain, there are those who say this could a blessing. 

"If these young people come back in a space of three, four years, they bring all of this back to the country," says Gayle Allard of the IE Business school in Madrid. "They bring some experience, they bring some international knowledge, and some languages, and that can only help Spain."

But all of this depends crucially on the return of economic growth in Europe -- and that appears as distant as ever.

About the author

Stephen Beard is the European bureau chief and provides daily coverage of Europe’s business and economic developments for the entire Marketplace portfolio.
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