Seven years ago, too few people were connecting the dots that might have helped us foresee the world's worst financial crisis for 75 years and its extended economic and social consequences. What dots are we not connecting today? High levels of unemployed or underemployed youth in several countries, largely a consequence of the aforementioned crisis, lie at the heart of a set of interconnected risks with economic, societal and political consequences that could potentially undermine many of the gains of globalization, if not addressed collaboratively.
Headlines on the world's unbearably high youth unemployment often focus on Spain, Greece or South Africa, where youth unemployment is still, staggeringly, over 50 percent. But the World Bank estimates that a similar percentage of young people in the developing world -- a total of about 620 million -- are "idle," meaning they are not employed or looking for work, nor are they in school or training.
The imperative to find gainful employment for, and imbue hope in, our young people should be seen as a global priority, but such slow-burning issues rarely dent a news cycle that is overly focused on the next quarter's results or the next electoral cycle. In an attempt to counter this tendency, the World Economic Forum analyses global risks based on a survey of international experts in order to provide a basis for discussion and action.
This year's Global Risks report finds unemployment and underemployment as the second highest risk of most concern. The top-ranking risk is connected: fiscal crises creating further aftershocks in the global economy. Even as many are starting to feel that the worst may now be behind us, the Eurozone debt crisis could become overshadowed by large-scale crises in other parts of the world such as the United States, Japan or China. Such a development would additionally undermine prospects for the current generation of young people, making further long-term, structural reforms more urgent.
For today's young people, a future of resource scarcity, more frequent extreme weather and deteriorating environmental conditions is already a reality. Against this backdrop of insecurity, apprehension about economic prospects weighs even more heavily on their minds.
The purpose of studying global risks is to understand the connections between them and inform efforts to manage and mitigate them. Looking further out, we also identify other risks that will require action to mediate their most malign effects on the challenged younger generation and harness any positive potential.
In light of this, our experts identified demographic trends as one of the emerging concerns that will likely become more serious over the coming decade. A potential youth bulge in many developing and emerging regions offers the prospect for rapid economic growth and raised living standards if managed the right way. But if managed poorly, the entry of an estimated 120 million extra young people into the workforce each year will only add to the line of long-term unemployed youth, not to mention the gloom and disaffection of their generation.
Despite the risks our world faces, it is possible to be optimistic about what the future holds. Good work has been done in Europe and elsewhere to restore credibility to government balance sheets and make financial markets more robust. There is a better grasp today of how more flexible labour markets and smarter investment in skills can help tackle youth unemployment and underemployment.
But global risks, as the name suggests, need global responses. No single nation -- or region -- can deal with issues such as youth unemployment on its own. Next week's World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos will focus in large part on how to better address these global risks. It will explore the interconnections between risks, and will look at ways to pool the resources and expertise of the public and private sectors, along with civil society, to find long-term, holistic solutions. Only by looking beyond the next quarter or the next election, by understanding interdependencies and building trust among nations and stakeholders, can we hope to build a platform for effective action.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post and The World Economic Forum to mark the Forum's Annual Meeting 2014 (in Davos-Klosters, Switzerland, Jan. 22-25). Read all the posts in the series here.