The reports are tragic. "Five years after the economic crisis struck the Continent, youth unemployment has climbed to staggering Great Depression-like rates" (The New York Times, 11/16/13). A large number of these unemployed have college and post-graduate degrees. China "is crowded with educated young people who are trying to figure out their futures in a country where a job market still prizes assembly-line workers" and where "The number of university graduates has nearly quintupled since 2000" (The New York Times, 11/6/13). Here in the U.S. we’re well aware -- many through personal experience -- of the millions of college graduates and post grads who are economically forced to continue living with their parents and who, if they are working at all, are earning $8 an hour.
The conclusion is irrefutable: the world’s for-profit market system is incapable of absorbing and providing a decent living for an inordinate portion of the world’s huge youth workforce -- a rapidly increasing percent of which is highly educated. Those who defend the system claim that the education is inappropriate for our new high-tech society, which they say is starving for capable help. We won’t address the critical issue here of whether the purpose of education is to supply a function or develop a total human being. But even if all these un-or underemployed graduates had all the required technical skills, only a small percent of them would find supportable employment. High-tech by its very definition and intent is labor-eliminating. And American companies are outsourcing programing and other high-tech tasks to Asia and Eastern Europe because it’s cheaper, not because U.S expertise is lacking.
The bottom line is that global capital has little or no use for the masses of young educated people. But society does. Immense rural and impoverished sections of the world are without competent medical practitioners. Roads, bridges, dams, and water works the world over need engineers and other trained people to properly maintain and refurbish them.
Vast polluted areas and waterways need an army of experts to clean them up.
The world’s schools outside the small high-end enclaves desperately need teachers. Agencies responsible for pollution control, public health, workplace safety, food and drug inspection, and a host of other protections are woefully understaffed. The causes -- and possible cures -- of many diseases go undetected from want of researchers.
These are all potentially public-sector projects that are not only essential, but if implemented, would give instant employment and purpose to a vast wasted and disillusioned youth workforce. Yet despite the crying social needs, the capitalist elite, intent upon keeping its untold wealth in its own few hands, is imposing draconian austerity measures on the public sector. And so, today’s young people are caught in a double bind: the private sector that can’t employ them is at the same time preventing their employment in the public sector that desperately needs them. The result is an unfathomable and tragic waste of youth unique to our time.
Clearly, these contradictions can’t endure. Since there is no economic basis for a recovery from the depression conditions that curtail private sector employment, there is only one avenue for today’s young people: they must recognize the real causes of their problem and become sufficiently politicized to make the necessary systemic changes. While their education might not help them earn a living, it may help them understand what’s really plaguing their lives and help lead the way to action. The alternative is a generation in decay -- perhaps the first of many.
Andrew Torre is a resident of Landgrove.