Saturday 19 November 2011

A million young Britons out of work

Young Britons Are Willing, but Few Jobs Are in Sight
By Julia Weedigier, The New York Times, 16 Nov 2011

LONDON — Zach Igglesden has been sending out dozens of job applications a week for the past year to companies across Britain. So far, he said, he has not even been invited to an interview.

Mr. Igglesden, 20, of Southend, east of London, finished secondary school two years ago and decided against pursuing a university education because he did not want to graduate with the burden of a student loan and no job.

His goal is relatively modest — to work as a sales assistant in a shop — but he said he had repeatedly been turned down because he lacked experience.

“It’s just very frustrating,” Mr. Igglesden said. “If you’re lucky, you get a reply, but mostly you don’t hear anything at all.”

To the roster of pain inflicted by the European debt crisis, add this: rising and persistent joblessness among young Britons. Though not at the level of troubled euro zone countries like Greece and rooted in domestic problems as well, it has reached a point here that is setting off alarms across the political and economic spectrum.

Unemployment among British youth, defined as those 16 to 24 years old, rose above the politically sensitive threshold of one million in the three months through the end of September, the Office for National Statistics said Wednesday. That’s the highest level since 1992.

An estimated 20.6 percent of British youth not pursuing a full-time education were without a job, an increase of 1.8 percentage points from the previous three months.

The problem is not confined to youth. Total unemployment in Britain rose by 129,000 to 2.62 million in the third quarter, bringing the jobless rate to 8.3 percent, the highest in 15 years.

Youth unemployment has been climbing in many European Union member states as economies struggle and governments impose stringent austerity plans. Spain’s youth unemployment rate reached 45 percent in the second quarter, the worst among European Union members, followed by Greece with 42.9 percent rate, according to Eurostat, the European Union statistics agency.

Britain never joined the euro zone and relies on its own currency, the pound. But the British government, which like its Greek counterpart has cut public-sector jobs and spending to trim a huge budget deficit, blamed the poor employment data in part on the euro crisis, which has depressed demand for British products in European markets and caused British companies to hesitate to hire.

“These figures show just how much our economy is being affected by the crisis in the euro zone,” Employment Minister Chris Grayling said Wednesday. “Our European partners must take urgent action to stabilize the position.”

The Bank of England also cited the euro crisis Wednesday as a reason for slashing its outlook for economic growth in 2012 to 1 percent, from an earlier projection of 2 percent, and paring its forecast for 2013 by half a percentage point, to 2.5 percent.

“Implementation of a credible and effective policy response in the euro area would help to reduce uncertainty and so support U.K. growth, but its absence poses the single biggest risk to the domestic recovery,” the bank said in its quarterly Inflation Report.

The opposition Labour Party warned Wednesday that the coalition government headed by Prime Minister David Cameron needed to stop blaming the euro zone for Britain’s economic problems and slow down its aggressive spending cuts that are “hurting but not working.”

Even the Confederation of British Industry, an employers’ group that generally aligns with the economic policies of Mr. Cameron’s Conservative Party, called Wednesday for urgent action by the government to get Britons, especially young people, working.

“A generation risks being scarred by the devastating effects of long-term unemployment,” said John Cridland, the group’s director general.

Rising unemployment among the young is especially worrying because it can easily lead to long-term unemployment and make it harder for the next generation to find their way into the work force, economists and charity workers said. That would not only hurt economic growth but could also affect youth crime rates, research showed.

Reducing youth unemployment by one percentage point could save £2 million, or $3.2 million, by avoiding youth crime, according to research by the Center for Economic Performance, a research concern at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

“If people are brought up in a household where people aren’t working, they miss the role models and are less likely to work themselves,” said Tom Jackson, chief executive of Spear, a charity that helps train unemployed youth.

Memories of recent riots in London that spread to other parts of the country make many people here fearful that disappointment with the government’s austerity policies could quickly spark social unrest.

Public opposition against the spending cuts — and those seemingly spared by them, like employees in London’s large financial services sector — has been mounting, as seen in the number of Occupy the London Stock Exchange protesters in tents outside St. Paul’s Cathedral. British unions have warned of general strikes.

Abdi Hussein, 24, said he was “fed up” with a government that promised to look after the young and unemployed but failed to do so. “We need the government to say we’ll give you at least a part-time job if you’ve been unemployed for say six months,” he said.

Mr. Hussein has been looking for a job ever since he had to drop out of a university program in photography last year because he ran out of money. He now lives on unemployment benefits of £200 a month and regularly visits his local library in London to use their computers for job searches and to send applications.

“I tried everything, but people always chose candidates with more experience,” he said. “They say, ‘Sorry, we received 400 applications for one position.”’

Vince Cable, the business secretary, presented a range of government initiatives Wednesday aimed at helping young people to join the work force. The government would pay some companies £1,500 to take on apprentices and hiring processes would be simplified, he said. The initiatives are expected to create up to 20,000 new trainee positions.

Some youth workers and businesses are skeptical. Howard De Souza, director of TAG, a youth charity, said the government plans would help those who are most likely to get a job anyway but neglected the less skilled without experience.

John Walker, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses, called the youth unemployment figures “truly shocking” and said “the government must wake up and take action to turn this around.”

The government has said it is relying on the private sector to provide jobs for young Britons and on voluntary organizations to train them — a policy that draws criticism from some quarters.

“We can’t expect the private sector to take up the slack with demand being so weak both at home and abroad, so it will be a long time before the labor market starts improving,” Nida Ali, an economist at the ITEM Club research group at Ernst & Young, said.

Mr. Igglesden decided he could not wait that long.

In September, he signed up for a 12-week personal development program with the Prince’s Trust, a charity for young people founded by the Prince of Wales. So far he has acquired interview skills, learned how to prepare a résumé and even gotten some work experience, he said.

Mr. Igglesden recently finished a short stint at Homebase, part of a chain of home improvement stores, and said he hoped to apply for a permanent role there once his program finished.

“I feel more hopeful now,” he said. “Things don’t look so bleak anymore.”

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