The Jobless Generation

Tens of millions of young people are unemployed. How to get them jobs before they become unemployable--and erupt in fury

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Christian Als for TIME

Rebels with a cause. Unemployed youths take to the streets of Madrid during a general strike in March.

Alex Rodrguez Toscano thought he had prepared himself well to compete in the 21st century. For five years, the Spanish economics major studied hard at Madrid's University of Carlos III, taking the most complicated mathematics courses and polishing the three foreign languages he speaks. But after graduating in February 2011, Rodrguez discovered that even those desirable qualifications mean little in today's distressed global economy. For eager college grads in crisis-hit Spain, where more than half of all young people are out of work, finding a job is almost impossible. Rodrguez has tried his best, sending 88 rsums to organizations that might require some economics research, but he hasn't gotten a single offer. "There are so many applications from so many people with master's and doctorates, people who have been doing this much longer," he complains. "Why would they hire me?" To bring in a bit of cash, Rodrguez takes catering jobs and tutoring assignments. Forced to live with his parents, Rodrguez, 25, worries that his lot may never improve. Being young and unemployed "makes you desperate," he says. "Desperate."

Tens of millions of other young people around the world feel exactly the same way. From Milan to Manila, Seattle to Santiago, the global economy is failing to provide good job opportunities for college graduates and others entering the workforce for the first time. After getting slammed during the 2008--09 financial crisis--when the global youth unemployment rate posted its largest increase on record--young people are discovering that their job prospects remain bleak three years later. Those in the world's richest nations got hit the hardest. Persistent recession and budget cutting have brought the situation to crisis proportions in some developed countries--like debt-burdened Greece, where youth unemployment is more than 51%. Over the past two years, the share of Americans ages 18 to 24 who are employed, at only 54%, is the lowest on record, according to a recent study by the Pew Research Center. In 2007, more than 62% were employed. The International Labor Organization (ILO) figures that 75 million people ages 15 to 24 are unemployed globally--or 2 out of every 5 jobless--and there is little hope of significant improvement. Without action, this army of young jobless could become "a lost generation," warns Gianni Rosas, the Geneva-based coordinator of the ILO's Youth Employment Programme. "We are in a situation where our kids are worse off than we were 20 years ago," he says. "We are going backward."

The longer the youth job crisis persists, the more severe the consequences will be. Advanced economies, which need to develop top-notch new talent to offset higher costs, could find themselves at a competitive disadvantage with emerging rivals like China and India. In aging societies, especially in Europe and Japan, youth unemployment makes the burden of funding health care and pensions for retirees even heavier, since the number of taxpaying workers is curtailed and the cost of benefits that governments must provide increases. Youth unemployment's most potentially lethal consequence: jobless youths are more likely to engage in terrorist activities and crime, studies have shown.

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