Youth unemployment – where does it lead?

As we settle into the Obama Depression era, one thing that I and others have noticed is that many of the very youth that voted enthusiastically for Obama are the ones already feeling the consequence of his policies: they are unemployed. As one of my college-age kids put it, “our generation is so over Obama, today!”.

High youth unemployment is an inevitable consequence of socialism. In modern Europe, it has always been high. Here is an example of its pervasiveness in the U.K., for example:

In Europe, the problem has been exacerbated by extensive “social safety nets” that guarantee a pretty good lifestyle for the unemployed. Why work, when you can live comfortably on public assistance combined with the black market economy (dealing drugs, for example)? There are large swaths of the European population that, like people in our inner city projects, have no idea how to work. A young man in France with a finance degree recently reported to me that he was “happily unemployed”. Thanks to his government, he leads a comfortable existence. However, that, too, shall come to an end, for Europe faces the same economic collapse as the U.S.

I really do feel sorry for university students graduating today: for many, if not most, their degrees will be obsolete by the time the economy recovers (which could be a very long time). What employer would hire a student with, say, a business, philosophy, English, or whatever degree that has lain fallow for two, four or more years when they can hire a freshly minted graduate instead? These students’ parents, meanwhile, will often have drained hundreds of thousands of dollars from their retirement funds to fund such now worthless educations. I know of parents that have destroyed their retirement options in order to put their kids through university.

So, what happens when you have armies of unemployed young people with obsolete skills? I know that this has happened before, such as in the Great Depression. However, when economic recovery did come in the mid-to-late ’40s, workers with no education and technical skills could still find plenty of hands-on work opportunities. I don’t know that this holds true anymore in a modern economy. There’s only so many openings for baristas.
Any ideas?

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  • Zachriel

    It’s pretty clear what happened, and when.

    Private Sector Job Growth

  • Ymarsakar

    So, what happens when you have armies of unemployed young people with obsolete skills?

    Create a war. Get em killed in it.

    Japan also has a similar problem, called NEETs (Not in Education, Employment, or Training).

    High taxes, social safety nets, and a devaluement on the number of children, seems to be the issue. For some reason, rural individuals have greater number of children than urban individuals, yet urban individuals have more political power in aggregate due to the concentrated networks. Probably because people move from small towns to cities for prospects.

    Without a high increase in the number of young individuals, the demand in the economy goes way down and so does the lucre producing grease. Then the older individuals clam up and the economy goes into a nose dive whenever there is a problem. Which unemploys the young and inexperienced first.

    This is actually something the government can affect, given their influence on urban sectors. But the government would have to do something very strange. It would have to cultivate individual initiative and self-sustainment (independence) on the part of city dwellers, using government power that doesn’t make them become parasites. Normally the government can’t do it. It takes society or unofficial back channels.

    Back channels can be created for isolated communities, no matter how large, but in America we have millions of different communities that aren’t isolated from each other at all. There’s no way you can lock one down and experiment on it until you get it right, then mass produce the solution for the others.

    The social systems humans developed over millenniums to deal with problems are not being erased, and the attempted replacement is faulty.

    HIt reset and start all over?

  • Ymarsakar

    NOw being erased.
    Marriage and what not also used to start sooner. Because in a small town, you had childhood friends that were with you from K to 12. People only ever got out when they were adults, to attend college or what not.
    But now people move all over the place. They don’t have childhood friends any more. They don’t have the “time” to get to know someone enough so that they can marry their high school sweethearts and start collecting/amassing wealth from an early age, enough to create a economic sustainability net for children.
    The feminist movement also deliberately sabotaged this aspect by promoting career first, for women. Thus causing them to focus even more on building a career, which means they’ll be much older by the time they get married and have children. And by that time, they will have lost most of the fertile years of their life, making it more economical to have 1 or 2 children, not 3-6 required to populate, from scratch, an area.
    What this also means is that less people will get married and the ones that do, will have fewer children. It used to be you weren’t seen as “socially right” if you weren’t married at a certain age. That has fallen by the way side.
    The issue with the “new” is that it had better be better than the old. But that’s just not often the case given human nature. We like comfort and tradition, yet we clamor for the interesting as well. The exotic. The far away lands. Humans have dual instincts. The instinct to make a home and make it secured, and the instinct to explore and get away from old roots.
    By tampering with people’s life progressions, young individuals now are told to be a boring office worker while they are young, then seek adventure and exploration when they are old and rich. Isn’t there like a biological issue with that kind of life progression? Of course there is.
    Oh well, maybe when we have portable wombs that can birth children on demand like a clone factory, the population issue will become less of a problem for a high tech nation.

  • Oldflyer

    I suggest that young people learn to replace batteries in electric cars; install solar panels; or erect windmills.  The government–I mean taxpayers– will subsidize their employment. I would suggest that they learn plumbing, but when building comes to a final halt, there will be a glut.  Actually, one way to work when jobs are scarce is take on the ones with a bit of danger.  So, disposal of CFL light bulbs (and clean up of broken ones) and disposal of used up electric car batteries might be a growth area.
    Then there is the military.
    Have to brag on my grand daughter.  Somehow during the past several years of no jobs for teens, she managed to hold weekend and summer jobs throughout high school.  She has had one all during her sophomore year in college–in San Francisco yet.  She has a unique method.  She goes around to businesses, meets them face-to-face, and asks for work.
    Then there is my 40 something niece who is chronically out of work.  She applies on-line, but never has any luck until unemployment benefits run out.

  • Danny Lemieux

    And Zach, the point is…? Please elaborate.

  • Ymarsakar

    Old, the age old wisdom is that people tend to take a risk on employees they can meet face to face and can get a sense of their personality/drive.
    Business meetings are still based upon F2F greetings, since people like to do business with those they also like.

  • Ymarsakar

    Zach, the point is that money grows on the tree for the government to harvest, like the golden fleece.

  • suek

    Lower or remove the minimum wage.
    Why would anyone hire someone who is a complete novice for the same wages/salary as they can hire someone with experience?  How is someone going to get experience unless they begin at the bottom?
    By the way…another _excellent_ article by Dr Sanity:

  • suek

    Explored a bit.  The article is interesting.  The comments…._really_ interesting.
    How can it be that on two different sides we say almost the identical things, and still are on opposite sides of the issue?

  • Danny Lemieux

    Suek, interesting Washington Monthly article.
    The competing ideas regarding government’s role in the economy are pretty much the same battle that took place during the Great Depression — the ideas of Keynes versus the Austrian School (Hayek, Von Mises, Schumpeter, etc.). FDR applied the ideas of Keynes and they worked only in the mythological narratives of the Left.
    John Maynard Keynes was an academic who dealt purely in abstractions. The Austrians (Hayek and Schumpeter, for example), however, developed and applied their economic theories (Schumpeter was an Austrian finance minister, for example), in the harsh crucible of post-WWI Austria and Germany. The Austrians knew what they were talking about.
    Money taken from the private sector and given to government projects does not stimulate economies because government is inherently inefficient user and allocator of resources. A perfect example is Obama’s use of the word “investment” in speaking of proposed government projects, such as rail systems. It is only an investment if it generates more economic wealth than it expends. There is no government rail system in the world that does that, Europe’s included. Ditto for government-owned car companies (use Europe as an example again).

  • Ymarsakar

    It doesn’t matter so much what they say suek. It’s more about what they do and what they would support doing.

  • Charles Martel

    I was reading somewhere that the traditional educational establishment—universities, public schools and the academy—is slowly being superceded by a new educational establishment of home schoolers, Internet scholars like Victor Davis Hanson (Works and Days), Richard Fernandez (Belmont Club), Thomas Sowell, and private colleges that eschew government help. The rise of this new establishment echoes what happened when medieval universities began prospering and taking over education from the Church.

    The current educational establishment has pretty much exhausted itself with its dead-end leftist politics, which as Danny’s commentary illustrates, is bringing Europe to the brink of calamity. It has certainly done a fine job of dumbing down American students and filling them with a sort of cluelessness that might have been endearing in a Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland movie, but has slowly been poisoning our public life.

    At least among their more agile minds, young people are realizing the worthlessness of the “education” they are receiving. As Danny points out, there really is no room or use for sociologists, or feminist historians, or queer theory specialists in a society that desparately needs productive people. On the other hand—and this is where Danny’s comments get chilling for me—even the cliched “look-ma-I-actually-have-a-worthwhile-skill!” jobs like computer technician or plumber will no longer be enough. A society as overbuilt as ours can only absorb so many plumbers.

    What I think will happen is that the content of education will change. Out will go the leftist drivel about victimhood and diversity, and the horrors of America and capitalism. Back will come an education based on classic texts and rhetoric, including rhetoric’s emphasis on logic and critical thinking. (Not the fraudulent “critical thinking” pushed at dumb college kids who don’t understand that “critical” simply means reflexive disdain for those qualities and virtues that the academy is at war against.)

    So far, so good. What’s not to like about a Hillsdale College-like approach to education? But good schools are also going to begin teaching skills we long ago forgot as the country created a (now collapsing) consumer society: How to garden, can, cure, hunt, administer sophisticated first aid, cook, sew, build, repair pipes, create a business, detect and resist confidence schemes, maintain and use firearms, delay gratification, learn table manners and social skills, and so on.

    In other words, we will see a return to the 19th-century scheme of education where students had to know a lot of things because they could not depend on the larger economy to provide all of their necessities. When Sears & Roebuck used to sell house-building kits that it would deliver to railheads almost anywhere in the country, it was assumed that recipients would know how to use the carpentry tools tucked into each kit.

    The result of this blend of practical knowledge and classical learning will create people of character who are incredibly resistant to the now discredited blandishments of statism. It will also form the core of a citizenry that can eventually rise from the ashes if the left succeeds in its goal of turning this country into another Romania or Mexico.

    It won’t happen in Europe. The Continent is too small to shelter distant havens, too controlled in fact and psychology to contemplate living as free people, too old demographically, too exhausted from its spending spree, and too demoralized from its secularism and pacifism to save itself. It will be, as it has been for the past 100 years, up to America to find a way to save the market economy and a political system that safeguards liberty. But to do it, I think we’re going to have to take a step back in time.

  • jj

    I’ve often wondered how this works out in the long run, even without the current – or any other – economic troubles.  The trend, even in good times, is for fewer and fewer people to be needed, owing to one or another of our various revolutions.  Illustrations: (A) it used to take a bunch of horses or oxen and guys with strong backs to run a farm of any size.  It was that way from the invention of crop cultivation in 2500 BCE – or whenever it was – until about 1920.  Then somebody invented the tractor, and by about 1930 all of a sudden the farmer’s eleven-year old driving a 1929 Ford Ferguson (that’s what I drove when I was eleven) pulling a wheelharrow up and down a field could do more work in one day than five guys with teams of horses could do in a week.  Five guys instantly became unemployed and obsolete. (B) Up until the 1970s Detroit was still using twenty guys to assemble a car on the line.  Now it’s four guys and eight robots.  12 guys – gone.  Remember when every gas station had mechanics?  All gone – now the dealership has a guy who plugs in a laptop and the car tells him what’s wrong.  The “mechanics” don’t even need to know anything mechanical – they just unscrew what the computer tells them to, and screw in a new one.  Drugstores once had people who actually knew what the hell a mortar and pestle were, and could fabricate compounds for you – now they count pills out of big bottles and put them into little ones.  (For this you have to go to pharmacy school?)  It used to take three guys to get the 747 from NY to Heathrow – now it’s a 767 and it only needs two.
    That’s the way it’s been in just about every field of endeavor of which I can think.  Even the NY Times is getting it done every day with 40 people in the newsroom where there used to be over a hundred.  It isn’t a pure zero-sum game, but there’s no question that the worker pool is growing while the need for workers is simultaneously shrinking.  We have our largest population ever, and – even in good times – there’s less and less and less for them to do.  We have more hands than ever, and we don’t need hands.
    We are expert at creating highly educated, even very intelligent people – who don’t know how to do anything.  Because you’re right, Danny: a degree in English, history, civics, ploy-sci, African studies, philosophy, etc., etc. is today an indulgence, not a career path.  If you’re going to spend the time to earn a degree in one of those sorts of things you better be in line to inherit a pile of money sufficient to keep you –  otherwise you’re going to be in mostly tough shape when you’re bounced from the nest.  You’d have been far better off spending those years apprenticed to a master plumber.  Obama babbles about everybody going to college – why?  The people who are and will always be employed – cops, city firemen, city bus drivers, city sanitation workers, bus drivers, commuter railroad people, et al. – why the hell do they need college?  (I used to ride the train from Mt. Kisco NY in to Grand Central Terminal every morning, with a thousand other people.  Know who the highest paid guy on that train was?  The kid driving it.  I got to know him pretty well, and any year he didn’t make $150K – back in 1988 – he regarded as a lost year.  Never went near a college a day in his life.  But he did join the union at 19.  Every now and then he’d take a day off from Metro-North and drive an Amtrak train to Boston.  He regarded that as slumming., but would do it in order to spend an afternoon at Filene’s.)
    We have a lot of people who devote their college years to frills – and it’s a waste of time and money.  What they can do when they get out of college and the real world hits them – no idea.  But there is a growing army of them, and they can and do vote, so it isn’t going to be a surprise (it shouldn’t be) when they start voting themselves a living because they can’t get it by working.  And the people to support that will be – already are – a shrinking pool.  Hello, England!  I regret to say that’s what looks to be coming.


    No ideas, but several unsettling observations.
    Too many degrees not enough jobs, here and in the EU, Russia and China as well.
    Several generations that delegate hammers but are unable to use them.
    A rising and angry uneducated Muslim population, who are quite adept at using a hammer and/or sickle for unintended and intended purposes.

  • MacG


    Too many degrees (knowledge), not enough jobs (doing). 

    It seems that not even for G-d just knowing things was not enough and got busy without delagating the task at hand either.

    The problem with the “educated” they typically have only one tool and when your only tool is a hammer you tend to see every problem as a nail.

  • Zachriel

    Danny Lemieux: Obama Depression era

    Zachriel: It’s pretty clear what happened, and when.
    Private Sector Job Growth

    Danny Lemieux
    : And Zach, the point is…? Please elaborate.

    If you look at the chart, you can see that the U.S. was sloughing off more and more jobs until Obama became president, then the trend reversed itself. It’s not a Depression, much less Obama’s Depression. 

    Danny Lemieux: John Maynard Keynes was an academic who dealt purely in abstractions.

    Keynes is considered by nearly all economists as one of the greatest economic thinkers of the last century. His theories are often misunderstood and misrepresented.

    Danny Lemieux: Money taken from the private sector and given to government projects does not stimulate economies because government is inherently inefficient user and allocator of resources.

    Money taken from the private sector and spent by the government does not normally act as a stimulus. So why would you attribute that policy as to Keynes? A stimulus has to lead to a net increase in demand. In addition, Keynes would only recommend fiscal expansion if there is significant unused labor capacity.

  • Zachriel

    jj: It isn’t a pure zero-sum game, but there’s no question that the worker pool is growing while the need for workers is simultaneously shrinking. 

    That’s been a problem with modernity since modernity was first imagined, but enterprising people keep coming up with new stuff. There’s still plenty of opportunities. There are far more people working productively today than a hundred years ago. Work won’t become obsolete, but the competition will become more fierce.

    By the ways, areas where modernization has not led to increased productivity are those fields that require close personal attention, education and medicine. That’s why education and medicine are so expensive. If they had increased productivity like farmers have, a teacher could teach a class of a hundred, giving individual attention to all the students, and a doctor could see a thousand patients a day.

    On your other point, college will become more and more important. There’s a global downturn, but that won’t last forever. There will be increasing demands for all sorts of skills, engineering, mathematics, science. And the arts.

  • Ymarsakar

    Getting  rid of union and government jobs is a good thing in a depression.