December 03, 2012
Europe has an enormous problem of youth unemployment, this is not really disputable. The NYT ran a major article on the topic that focused on the situation in France. It told readers:
“This is a ‘floating generation,’ made worse by the euro crisis, and its plight is widely seen as a failure of the system: an elitist educational tradition that does not integrate graduates into the work force, a rigid labor market that is hard to enter, and a tax system that makes it expensive for companies to hire full-time employees and both difficult and expensive to lay them off.”
When facts about the world are “widely seen,” readers should get nervous. People see these facts, we want names.
The point is a serious one. This piece highlights the problems of the education system in France and other countries and blames them for high youth unemployment and underemployment. While there are undoubtedly serious problems with these educational systems (as with most systems), these problems did not suddenly get much worse in the last 5 years. The reason for the scary youth employment/unemployment data cited in this piece is the economic collapse in 2008 and the decision by the European Central Bank (ECB) to push austerity as a response. The policies of the ECB bear far more responsibility for the dire state of the labor market for youth in France and the rest of Europe than problems with the education system.
It is also worth noting that the French unemployment data tend to overstate youth unemployment. College students are given stipends, so most do not work, unlike in the United States. Therefore the youth labor force is much smaller in France. This means that if the same share of youth are unemployed it would translate into a much higher unemployment rate in France.