Youth Unemployment & Global Social Unrest | INFINITE 8 INSTITUTE / by Ean Garrett

Protestors in Ferguson returning a tear gas container after tactical officers attempt to break up a group of bystanders, Aug. 14, 2014 in Ferguson, MO. 

Protestors in Ferguson returning a tear gas container after tactical officers attempt to break up a group of bystanders, Aug. 14, 2014 in Ferguson, MO. 

As protests and mass demonstrations swell around the world, from Ferguson to Hong Kong, at the heart of global social unrest lies youth employment. Stephanie Schwartz, author of “Youth and Post-Conflict Reconstruction: Agents of Change,” states, “The world is watching closely to see if these movements can consolidate an agenda of the many different young people they represent, and how this platform may be incorporated into the policies and institutions of developing states.” Youth unemployment is a global security concern and can no longer go unchecked. It is the varying causes of youth unemployment that must proactively be addressed. It will be preventative and far-sighted social investments that will ensure the future of an entire generation. 

The rise in youth unemployment has become a dire socio-economic issue for developing and developed nations alike. In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), with 2.8 million young people under the age of 25 entering the workforce every year, and youth unemployment rates ranging between 27% and 29% respectively, such workforce inequities were largely responsible for much of the discontent leading up to the Arab Spring. Sub-saharan Africa is also no less vulnerable with unemployment rates as high as 50% in South Africa among youth ages 15-24, making it the third highest in the world, and also near 50% among Nigerian youth between the ages of 15 and 34 years of age. With Africa’s youth population of 200 million expected to double by 2045, the issue of youth unemployment will serve as an integral focal point for the future of Africa. However, Western nations must grapple with similar issues. Youth unemployment in the Euro area stood at an unprecedented 23% in mid-2014, with highs as much as 58% in Greece. While in the United States, unemployment rates for 18-29 year olds is 15.8%, more than double the national average. While unemployment among Black youth in the US, ages 18-29, leads all ethnic groups at 23.8%. Research has shown that high levels of youth unemployment erode social order, and will therefore serve as a key issue to global security in the 21st Century. 

Since the financial crisis in 2008, there has been an overall decline in economic growth unseen since the Great Depression, which roughly accounts for 50% of the increase in youth unemployment. Due to the cuts in international government expenditures, less funding has gone to provide programming, vocational training, and workforce competencies for young people in the new knowledge-based economy. As a result of young human capital being underutilized, their talents and skill sets depreciate. Rather than governments the world over spending money on the militarization of police to quell social unrest, it would be a wise use of funding to preventatively invest in building up the capabilities and skill sets of future human capital pools. The woes of unemployment not only give young people reason to take to the streets, but as a result of lacking opportunities for productive engagement they also have ample free time to do so. 

The strategy to address global youth unemployment must be multi-faceted and solution-based. There are promising methods that are currently being applied around the world. Belgium has recently utilized the innovative Social Impact Bond model, bringing together philanthropic as well as private and public sector partners to address unemployment among young migrants. Junior Achievement, the world’s largest organization dedicated to training students regarding workforce readiness, entrepreneurship, and financial literacy through hands-on programs. Similarly, Infinite 8 Institute, L3C is currently providing training in high growth sectors, such as social entrepreneurship and impact investing, digital currency, environmental sustainability, and emerging technologies. 

As thousands of young people march in the streets in New York, Berkeley, and Mexico City, only the investment in young people around the world will spur growth as well as prevent widespread social unrest. Such social disorder among the developed and developing world serves as a challenge to the security and welfare of all global citizens. The root causes of youth unemployment, such as lack of government investment and unavailable or inadequate training, must immediately be addressed. Furthermore, solutions to the issue must be such that they are sustainable and long-term oriented in order to ensure success. It is in the interest of all people to provide our youth with hope as the favorable alternative to despair and chaos.  

Ean Garrett, J.D., is the author of two books, "Rebirth of a Dream" and "The Immovable Race", as well as the Chief Innovation Officer of the consulting firm, Infinite 8 Institute, L3C, specializing in education and social innovation. Follow him on Twitter & IG: @eangarrett