Cuts in Child Benefit, Youth Programmes, school capitation grants, higher education, student grants, youth unemployment payments – the economic war on youth has run into hundreds of millions and cost the life-chances of hundreds of thousands: emigration, unemployment, falling wages. At the start of this crisis who would have imagined this war would have run for so long and been so destructive?
The first rule in an economic war is to discredit the victim. One of the most malicious comments during this crisis was aimed at youth (though attacks on public sector workers were equally outrageous) and came from a Labour Minister:
‘What we are getting at the moment is people who come into the (social protection) system straight after school as a lifestyle choice. This is not acceptable, everyone should be expected to contribute and work.’
Yes, there are so many jobs available but our lazy, lazy kids choose to hang around the house in their underwater drinking Red Bull and watching DVDs all day. We have to incentivise their indolent backsides. And cutting youth unemployment payments is one of those ways.
It’s bad enough to suffer cuts – in public services, income supports, job, wages. But then to be told that you are to blame . . . And then to be told that you are lazy, too . . .
This may make for some popularity among the Sunday Independent, populist, socially-vindictive set. But it is wrong, terribly wrong, demonstrably wrong. And it diverts attention from the real issues, as scapegoating is intended to do.
It has been pointed out by many commentators that there are approximately 32 unemployed for every job vacancy. This is a national average. It is likely to be higher for younger people who are disadvantaged in the labour market (e.g. less job experience) unless they possess skills in labour shortage areas. This alone tells us a lot. But there’s another way to approach this issue.
If there is a gene in the Irish youth make-up that predisposes them to sloth, we should be able to historically track it. The following two graphs refer to the ‘employment rate’ as measured by Eurostat. The employment rate is the proportion of the working age population in employment. This is a better measurement than the official unemployment rate which can be altered by administrative rules.
So what did our lazy kids do prior to the crash? They worked.
For young people aged between 20 and 24, the Irish employment rate was the fourth highest in the EU-15 – considerably above the average of other EU-15 countries. However, we must be aware that in this age group there would be a high level of young people still in education. But of those in the workforce, nearly 70 percent of Irish youth were working.
Looking at the employment rate for those aged between 25 and 29 years is helpful as almost all of this group would have left education. How do the Irish hold up in the lazy stakes? Pretty poor, actually. People were just too determined to work.
What does this tell us? It’s quite simple. Young people didn’t need social protection cuts to be incentivised to work hard - in 2004 to 2006 unemployment payments actually increased by an incredible 32 percent but still people preferred to work; they didn’t need to be threatened to have their dole cut if they didn’t take up that JobBridge internship in a petrol shop in Mullingar; they didn’t even need a letter from the Department telling them it’s better to work – they had figured that out all on their own a long time ago.
All that was necessary to establish a high employment rate was work availability. And that’s why in both the age categories, the employment rate has crashed. For instance, for the 25 to 29 age group, the employment rate has fallen from 2nd highest pre-crash to 4th lowest in 2012, just above other peripheral countries. Why has it fallen? Because the pool of available work is too small.
It’s that simple. It’s not about being lazy; it’s not about incentivising young people; it’s not about lecturing them or hectoring them or hassling them. It’s about putting more jobs in the work pool.
Unfortunately, in the economic war on youth, there’s a drought – and young people are blamed if they don’t go around rain-dancing hard enough.