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OP ED on youth unemployment

OP ED on youth unemployment

Lynley Tulloch

NEETS (not in employment, education or training) is a new term that is being bandied around a lot at the moment. Labour MP Grant Robertson raised the issue of NEETS with Stephen Joyce in parliament last month. He stated that since this time last year “the number of young New Zealanders not earning or leaning has increased by 4,000, or 5 percent”.

Joyce passed this off as the result of a population increase in young people. Yet, I don’t think this issue should be so readily fobbed off. Currently, there are around 90.000 young people aged between 18-24 who fall into the NEET category.

We’ve known about this for a while. A report by the Human Rights Commission in 2011 entitled ‘Breaking through: Young people at work’, signalled the issue of youth unemployment in New Zealand as a major concern. They cited employer bias about hiring young people as one of the key issues. From disadvantaged youth with few educational qualifications to recently qualified tertiary graduates, it seems our youth are struggling to be gainfully employed.

The social stigma attached to being a NEET, along with issues of poverty and feelings of low self-esteem and despondency, are likely to lead to an ever-increasing downward spiral in mental health. A 2009 study published in the Journal of Vocational Behaviour found that 34 per cent of unemployed people suffered mixed symptoms of distress, depression, anxiety, psychosomatic symptoms, subjective well-being, and self-esteem. This compared to 16 per cent of the employed population

NEETS are referred to often in media as ‘unoccupied’. That’s rubbish - I’m pretty sure they are occupied, perhaps just not in the way society would wish them to be. They are not “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps”, and so have let themselves and society down. At least that is the myth we tell ourselves.

It’s easy to blame the NEETS for the position they are in. But gaining employment is not as simple as going to a public toilet and flicking the switch to ‘occupied’. Those positions available may not meet your skill set, or you don’t have the right experience - being young may well count against you when job-seeking.

NEETS don’t need sympathy or derision. They need jobs – ones that will fulfil them as humans and not degrade them. We need to think more critically about the nature of work in a capitalist market -based economy – many jobs on offer are soul destroying and market forces can be very destructive of a stable career path. In addition, no amount of education or training will make jobs that just don’t exist.

I have watched two year olds build sandcastles just to jump on them and start again. I think about how we often lose that ability as time fades us.

18-24 year olds have built many castles in their minds. After a lifetime of being asked what they want to be when they grow up, they have generally got the idea that employment is desirable and what makes you a success.

However, in a rapidly changing economy jobs come and go like mirages in a desert. A 2014 report entitled ‘Fast Forward 2030: The Future of Work and the Workplace ‘, predicted that 50 percent of occupations will be redundant in 20 years.

In such a confusing, fast pace world it must be hard for young people to know what they want to do. Many of our young cannot afford to study at University and be saddled with a huge student debt until death they do part. By making our children pay for their education we just went and jumped all over their sandcastles. That is not nice playground behaviour.

It gets harder to dust yourself off after numerous bids for employment are rejected and your life seems scattered in a million grains of sand at your feet.

Narrow vocational pathways and punitive social policies designed to force people to work dull and unfulfilling jobs are wrongheaded. They simply put a band aid over a very nasty and dysfunctional wound.

We need to re-examine our social ethos and address the economic and social system that has failed our young. A good step would be to bring back free tertiary education. Let’s give our young the same opportunities and chances to dream that we did before neoliberal policies turned university into a business model. A well rounded liberal education should be a public good, and not one that only the very few can access.

Shortly before he died President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security. “People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made”.

Our current neoliberal economic and social policies are failing many of our young. We need to fight for their future.


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