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As jobless levels surge, a lost generation?

A young Egyptian protests in Cairo on Tuesday. In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, almost 90 per cent of unemployed workers are under 30, according to economist Chris Lafakis of Moody's Analytics.

SUHAIB SALEM/Suhaib Salem/Reuters

One of the legacies of the Great Recession may well be a lost generation in many countries.

While youth unemployment in Canada is running at almost 14 per cent, it's far, far higher in other regions. In the European Union, for example, fresh readings today showed the jobless level among young people at 21 per cent. In South Africa, it's a stunning 51 per cent. Here's a telling, and worrying, statistic from Britain: Among fresh college grads, unemployment is 20 per cent.

Globally, according to the International Labour Organization, 78 million young people were without work last year. While that's down from 2009, it's well above pre-recession levels. And it doesn't count an estimated 1.7 million young people who have quit searching for a job.

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"Youth employment is a world priority" ILO director-general Juan Somavia said in the report last week. "The weak recovery in decent work reinforces a persistent inability of the world economy to secure a future for all youth. This undermines families, social cohesion and the credibility of policies."

There's not just the issue of the "next generation," the young men and women who will become tomorrow's business leaders and populate the world's offices and factories. There's already revolution in the air in some regions. While other factors are, of course, at play - strong-handed governments, oppression, etc. - unemployment and poverty are fuel for the fire.

"In most Arab countries, a majority of the population is under 30, and unemployment rates are exceptionally high for young workers, who are the most likely to rebel," economist Chris Lafakis of Moody's Analytics said in a report today, as masses gathered in Cairo's Liberation Square and Jordan's King Abdullah sacked the government amid mounting street protests.

"In Egypt and Saudi Arabia, almost 90 per cent of unemployed workers are under 30," Mr. Lafakis said. "As evidence of the risk of revolution contagion, Syria's president has already signaled that he will push for more political reforms. The events in Egypt could also spark unrest in Sudan, a politically unstable country where demonstrations are already occurring and citizens have voted to partition the country."

The head of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, noted in an interview with CNBC today that it was only last summer when he warned that youth unemployment in nations such as Egypt and Tunisia was "a kind of time bomb."

It's not just the Middle East, either. Young people have joined their elders in demonstrations that have spread across Europe to protest harsh austerity measures.

As Mr. Somavia so aptly put it, global leaders must turn their attention to the ugly problem of young people without jobs. While revolution may be far from home where most industrialized nations are concerned, the legacy we leave our children is not.

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About the Author
Report on Business News Editor

Michael Babad is a Report on Business editor and co-author of three business books. He has been with Report on Business for several years, and has also been a reporter and editor at The Toronto Star, The Financial Post and United Press International. His articles have appeared in major newspapers around the world. More

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