This is a guest post by James Nugent a member of Dublin Bay South Green Party who gives his take on youth unemployment in Ireland.
In Franz Kafka’s unfinished novel, The Castle, the central protagonist K. attempts to get to a castle to find work. For the duration of this surreal story, K. fails to reach his end goal; the prize of employment. This is in large part due to the bizarre, distant, and alien surroundings he finds himself trapped in. Finding a parallel between a Kafkaesque dystopian novel and a supposedly recovering economy shouldn’t be easy but to this writer’s chagrin, the similarity between the plight faced by K. and the youth of the Republic of Ireland today positively smacked me in the mouth.
The major connection, between these two seemingly disparate things, is the lack of help afforded the relevant protagonists in their day to day life aspirations. Now, I know most of this Republic’s youth have a plethora of varying life ambitions they want to fulfil but it is not unfair to say that for a very many of them, the goal of employment is an especially pertinent one. Many of our youth find themselves in an economic mire, travailing hopelessly like K. to locate their employment without success. K. makes appeals to the suffocating multifaceted bureaucratic authority that dominates his everyday enterprise to succeed in his singular ambition, whereas our youth look toward politicians in power, private business, and education for a clear path toward a future inclusive of paid employment. Unfortunately, the receptivity of those they appeal to is askew. Although answers to their plights are provided, they are jarring and unclear. K. is lead around in dementing circles as a consequence of this. The Irish youth comparatively have figured out that aptitude tests, unpaid internships, relatively low pay for their burgeoning collection of degrees, and emigration is the best medicine for a healthy and happier future.
At present, our Government is playing two trump cards to reassure our citizenry of a prosperous economic future. The first is our country’s dropping unemployment rate, and the second is her falling national debt. If you were to traverse through the Government’s recent bit-part strategic job plan, you will notice that the only tangible positives are the above. All the rest are futile promises and verbiage designed to obfuscate reality not shape it. Depressingly, when one probes deeper into these positives, their gloss wanes considerably.
Recent statistical figures when properly disaggregated are damning for the drop in unemployment. The current seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 7.1% shows the country has come a long way since the crash but the youth unemployment rate (people aged 15-24) is 15.2% which is very much an outlier in the overall distribution of unemployed persons in this nation1. Adding to this, if one cares to look at the CSO’s recent total population figures, they will see that 194,500 people between the ages of 20-34 left between 2011 and 20162. Granted some of those who left did so voluntarily but for an exodus of this magnitude, the harsh reality is that lots of people gave up on this country as a means to provide a job. Finally, to reinforce this sombre point, the job vacancy rate has stayed consistently below 1% over this period. According to the well-regarded Beveridge Curve prevalent in economic literature, there should be an inverse relationship between unemployment rate and job vacancy. As the number of unemployed goes down, job vacancy rates should increase. Alas, we have a declining unemployment rate and a non-moving job vacancy rate. What is causing this often empirically apparent and valid relationship to fail in our Republic? This writer has a hunch. Unemployed people are leaving because of the lack of vacancies. Such an answer explains away the above failed relationship. Unemployed people leaving equates to lower unemployment rates as the unemployed become a smaller proportion of the country’s populous. The vacancy rate stays depressingly low – In fact according to recent Eurostat evidence, the fifth lowest in the EU.
With respect to the lessening national debt, the Government seems to be marching unblinkered to the tune of European austerity, as if it is the only means to slash our financial deficit. Granted austerity has its merits, principally it shows capacity to honour debt repayments, but it has to be administered sparingly to be effective. Economists from Martin Wolf to Paul Krugman have pointedly demonstrated that all out austerity is not an economically desirous circumstance for growth. Our country needs economic impetus to pay off our debt more quickly. There needs to be expansionary policies. There needs to be some sort of debt restructuring. The least our Government can do is provide tangible figures that don’t mask the reality that our nation is in a deep depression at present. We are slouching toward a recovery without direction and leadership. Our youth deserve to have realistic hope for a prosperous economic future. We don’t deserve to live in a Kafkaesque dystopia without any realistic and well thought out resolution. Our democracy is too fragile a flower to survive in such an arid condition.
1 CSO Quarterly National Household Survey, Quarter 4, 2016, Table 4A
2 CSO Population and Migration Estimates April 2016, Table 7