"A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in" - Greek Proverb
On Wednesday, I will be speaking at a panel on the global unemployment crisis -- a crisis that is eating at the very fabric of society. As 2013 gathers steam we find ourselves in a world where youth unemployment has recorded the greatest rise in history -- ever. Globally, youth are three times more likely to be unemployed than their parents. In the MENA region, it takes first-time job seekers "on average" more than two years to find their first job -- "on average" usually means let's not talk about how much it takes women.
According to Prof. David E. Bloom at Harvard, the world's 1.2 billion adolescents and young adults between the ages of 15 and 24 (or more than 1 in 6 people around the world) are "probably the most neglected by policy, analysts, business thinkers, and academic researchers of all the age groups." As Prof. Bloom puts it, these ignored youth present countries with "both great peril and great promise." The tip in the balance will be determined by "what they experience in their school years and in their earliest years of work."
Nemat Shafik, the deputy Managing Director of the IMF, has said that "if the right policies are not put into place, there is a risk not only of a lost decade in terms of growth but also of a lost generation." I appreciate Ms. Shafik's attempt to highlight the problems of my generation, but I believe a "lost generation" is only the tip of the iceberg. We are at risk of losing generations -- plural. The unemployed youth of today are those whose foregone wages are supposed to pay the pensions for those about to retire (through taxes). From the near future, to a couple of generations ahead, the evidence on wage scarring is very clear. The unemployment suffered by the youth of today will most likely haunt them for the rest of their lives and when they become parents of their own -- if they ever make enough of a living to start their own families -- it will also haunt their own children.
The saddest part of all of this is that none of it is really news. We already know all of this. The reports and recommendations keep coming out. They keeping coming and nothing happens. There are several examples of "best practices" that are often highlighted here and there, but little is done to scale these practices and replicate them. As on those reports recently emphasized, our solutions need to deal with millions, not thousands, of youth.
Maybe I'm oversimplifying. Maybe I'm too young to understand why if something is so important to our future it can't just happen. Maybe this is a policy shift that can't just be happen over breakfast -- or maybe it can. Maybe our priorities should be that simple and we should all be planting trees who's shade we know we will never sit in.