Europe's youths aren't working. Youth unemployment in Spain is close to 45%, in Greece 40%, 30% in Ireland and Italy. In the UK some 20% can't find work. Yet modern Europe is a continent based on consumer consumption; the TV ads haven't changed since 2008. A snappy little Fiat, the latest iPad, a DFS sofa, financial products, designer coffee, a home and cat - all dangled as aspirational should-haves to two-thirds of a generation. The workless third are expected to be patient and wait, I guess.
That last sentence wasn't a throwaway. 30% youth unemployment can mean either that all youths can expect to be employed 2/3rds of the time or that 2/3rds of youths are employed all of the time and 1/3 for none of the time. Surprisingly, Spain, with employers who as a body avoid giving a permanent contract and its obligations to the young, is among the job-sharers; all young people tend to have some work, albeit short-term, with gaps between contracts. The UK is among nations that should be wary of creating the opposite, a cohort of adults who have passed through youth without having ever worked, for here lies a timebomb.
Those who have had work experience, albeit a series of short-term and insecure contracts, will settle into full-time permanent employment as soon as they have the chance. Those who have never had work experience by the time they hit 35 are unlikely ever to work during their working lifespan. This timebomb is the result of well-meaning but actually destructive employment protection measures of the kind promulgated by the Labour Party and the EU.
Let's ensure we're in the former group; if young people have to share flats (and costs) to even-out short term contracts, if they have to learn to live for twelve months on nine months' earnings (and both short-term tax breaks and better hourly rates would help here) and if they have to take the iPad this year and defer the new Fiat to 2013 this is infinitely better than creating a deadweight cohort of unemployable, unfulfilled and wrecked lives. The more flexible and less secure our youth labour market, the better the long term chances of all our young people.