At the weekend over 200 young people gathered in Liberty Hall under the auspices of We’re Not Leaving to draft a Young People’s Charter. The charter addresses a number of issues - precarious work, internship, unemployment and emigration, mental health and housing. You can read the draft charter here. It is a considerable achievement and will hopefully be the basis of a sustained, substantial and ultimately successful campaign.
The name says it all: we’re not leaving. This in itself is a declaration of defiance and affirmation – defiance against the Government’s imposed austerity and affirmation that young people will fight for their future here. Unfortunately, too many have been forced to leave – to the point that we are hollowing out a generation of young people to the economic and social detriment of all of us.
According to the CSO, emigration has risen dramatically in the last three years.
This refers to the age bracket of 15 to 24 years. Emigration has risen from 14,000 in 2004 to nearly 35,000 this year (year up to April). In the last three years, 105,000 young people have emigrated. Given that the number of young people in 2013 was 535,000, this represents over 16 percent of people from this age cohort.
There are two caveats to this. Even in the boom times there is emigration so we can’t assume that all emigration is the result of the recession. Second, while there is emigration, there is also immigration (including returning Irish). In the last three years, there has been a negative migration flow of 63,000.
However, to get a fuller perspective of this hollowing out of our young population, we can look at the actual level of population. This makes for grim graphics.
These are incredible population falls. In the 20-24 age group, the fall in population has been 115,000 or 31 percent. In the 25-29 age group the fall has been 88,000 or 22 percent.
In total – for the age group between 15 and 29 – there has been a decline of 224,000, or 21 percent. Think on that: we have lost close to a quarter of million young people in the last five years.
This is not part of a general population trend.
All other age groups show a population increase – the highest being in the over-65s and under-15s. But what stands out is the massive collapse in the key demographic of 15 to 29 years.
This is not only a tragedy for young people having to undergo forced emigration, it is a social tragedy. One of the potential strengths of the Irish economy is a relatively youthful demographic with the potential to grow the economy and create a better age balance than most other European countries which are aging rapidly. Instead, we are hollowing out our society.
And when you hear some Minister or commentator going on about our falling unemployment rate, about how our labour market is getting better, just remember: there has been a fall of over 220,000 among young people. If the population of this age cohort had remained static since 2008 and 75 percent of this group were jobseekers, then the unemployment rate would be 19.9 percent.
Yes, unemployment is falling. Because of a massive exodus of young people at a social and economic cost that has still to be calculated or experienced.
What kind of society is being created for our young people and for all of us?