Millions search for jobs that aren't there
Dublin, Amsterdam, London, Hamburg, Brussels
It was midmorning in the Buttery Restaurant in one of the gray stone buildings behind the emerald lawns at Trinity College, Dublin. Cups and plates clattered, rain beat on the windows, and half a dozen bright, alert, but worried soon-to-be-graduates sat around a table talking about jobs.
"You know," said Andrea Martin, an office worker of the Student Union and her final year of law, "I'm suddenly noticing just how bad the situation is.
"I've just about stopped asking friends, 'Well, how are you getting on? Where are you working?' because so many of them aren't working at all. It's embarrassing to ask and embarrassing to answer."
She looked and sounded upset. She herself expects a career in law. It comes as a shock to her to discover that many young people in Ireland (where half the population is under the age of 25) have been on unemployment relief for a year or more. Many have never worked at all -- a phenomenon found across Europe. It contributes significantly to unrest and rioting in Britain, and to general unhappiness in the Netherlands, Belgium, West Germany, and other European nations.
No one knows how many young people are out of work in Ireland, one of the poorest countries in Europe. Official statistics show that just over 10 percent are unemployed nationwide, but they omit youth who have left school altogether. The figure for them is much higher, perhaps 1 in 5, or worse.
"You see the effect all round you," said Andrea. "So many people are in these retraining courses. So many rely on the university careers office."
June Meehan, tall and energetic, in her final year of history, economics, and psychology, and vice-president of the Student Union, nodded vigorously.
"My younger brother has graduated from a vocational school but can't find a trade," she said. "No one will take him on. No one."
For John O'Callaghan, who has just finished four years of French, history, and economics, the prospects are sobering.
"So many friends of mine can't get jobs," he said, driving me back to my hotel one night in his tiny car, glaringly splashed with paint to advertise a brand of jeans. (The company pays him $:200 Irish [$304] a year to act as a traveling advertisement, and he needs the money.)
"Many kids take the obvious way out: They specialize at university, study for another year or two, and hope jobs will be there when they do leave. Or they try for the safe professions: accountancy, teaching, or engineering. The university careers office suggested the civil service, but I won't do it, because it is boring.
"How long can this unemployment business go on?"
It's a question being asked by young people all over Europe.
"I was out of work for six months," said Robert Rae, a tall Irishman on the staff of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) in London. "It's dispiriting. You have to force yourself to keep busy. I earned only about half of my former wages on the dole [unemployment compensation]. A lot of people desperately want work, but there's no one who will hire them."
Britain's unemployment rate has shot up faster than that of any other country in Europe, to a level of almost 12 percent (just under 3 million people in all). Among young people it is considerably higher (around 15 percent). In inner city areas such as Toxteth, in Liverpool, it is as high as 40 percent for whites and 60 percent for blacks.
Robert Rae made two more points as he stood by his desk in jeans, black woolen sweater, and brown sneakers.
* "I think high unemployment is permanent now. Three or 4 million people. I can't see industrial society doing enough to get the rate down. There are tough times ahead.
"They have to keep paying out the money to the unemployed. You used to have to go and register every day. Now it's every two weeks and in some areas it's once a month, because there aren't enough clerks to handle the numbers.
* "You know, the whole scene seems to be falling apart. No jobs, and when you pick up the paper, nuclear missiles coming to Britain. It's all wrong."
Many young people see a link between nuclear weapons and unemployment, in the sense that both add up to a general sense of unease -- even fear -- as they look to the future.
It's a sense of personal insecurity, derived from recession and uncertainty about economic prospects. It is compounded by a fear that the superpowers are building smaller, but much more accurate, nuclear weapons that might one day trigger a holocaust.
Young rioters in Liverpool, Brixton, Manchester, Wood Green, and elsewhere in Britain don't seem concerned about nuclear missiles. They say they are bored, fed up with police "harassment," angry at a society that they see as depriving them of jobs, yet pouncing on them if they so much as ride a motorbike home late at night.
"They stop you all the time, man," is a common complaint among both black and white young people in Liverpool and Manchester, where alienation from the police is widespread. It feeds on the frustration and lack of fulfillment in hanging around all day with nothing to do. The hard left of the British Labour Party tries to exploit this resentment. Vandals and criminals loot and rob during riots.
Only a handful of British police are black. Not a single member of the House of Commons is black. Blacks in the streets have few heroes to look up to.
Yet, among better-educated, more middle-class young people in Britain and in Europe, antinuclear sentiment combines with unemployment to generate a wider malaise. "There's a definite link in people's minds," said Mr. Rae.
No one knows how many young people think this way. The majority seems to go the conventional way, working, saving, getting married, raising children, paying mortgages.
Instead of living to work, many young Europeans want only to work enough to live. Large numbers travel through Europe, picking fruit and vegetables on farms, pooling tips on jobs and cheap hostels, smoking marijuana, drinking wine, singing songs. Every society has had its dropouts -- and they receive more press attention than more conventional workers.
"But this generation is born into a world where unemployment is the fact," said Alison Whyte, another CND official in London. "They feel ripped off. There seem to be no opportunities.
"And don't forget the feeling of guilt that comes from failing to find work, or from being fired. Kids think it's somehow their fault. They feel deminished , incomplete.
"I was out of work for six months. I looked, went for interviews, but you get into a downward spiral. I barely managed to live."
She paused. "You know," she said quietly, "people have been years, years without jobs."
She went on: "The government says young people are lazy. They make the rest of society angry about this 'lazines.' Then they make policies that cause whole sections of industry to close down, with all the jobs they used to offer."
Many youths also feel that they deserve to work, that they have a right to expect society to provide them a job.
"A generation of young people grew up in Holland when the discovery of natural gas, and prosperity, raised expectations," said Johannes, who came to Amsterdam four years ago from Guyama. He has learned the language, settled down , and found a good job.
Dutch unemployment is now more than 8 percent. It is a national concern. Yet Johannes also sees a paradox: "Roads need to be built, houses renovated, social amenities provided. But Dutch kids won't do it. They're choosy. Let the Moroccans, the Italians, and the other immigrant workers take the dirty jobs."
Christoffel Zumpolle also takes a cool look at his fellow Dutchmen: "Czechs come and build ships," he said. "Turks and Moroccans do all kinds of jobs the Dutch don't want to do. It's so easy to keep on studying here -- 1,000 guilders [$420] a year. Almost free. Unemployment benefits are so high; in Holland, the unemployed take holidays, too.
"No one is starving here. But it's a depressing time. Everyone is worried about money and the cost living.
"Then they look at television, listin to the radio, and read the papers, and it's all about US nuclear missiles and maybe war on the horizon.
"It adds up to trouble and discontent."
Judy Baker is 17, born in London of Jamaican parents, cheerful and strongly built. She wears a sweat shirt with "Los Angeles 26" emblazoned across it as she sits at the headquarters of the CND in London.
Judy graduated from a London secretarial college in April and looked for work all over the West End of the city for two months. Finally she went to a government careers office. It sent her to a referral center called Springboard, situated in a church rectory in Stoke Newington. It offered her three choices.
"One was filing and typing," Judy said. "Another was typing and filing. This one here [at CND] looked more interesting."
What does she do? "Typing and filing." She realized what she'd said and smiled. "But not just that: franking [mail], duplicating, photocopying . . . I'm busy. That's how it should be."
She is part of the Youth Opportunities Program started by the Margaret Thatcher government to provide training and jobs for some 400,000 young people. James Prior, secreary of state for employment, now wants to expand it; Alan Walter, the prime minister's economic adviser, wants to encourage industry to create jobs by cutting the high wages it is forced to pay youths under trade union rules. He favors government financial incentives as well.
Emily Wilkins, just out of her comprehensive school in Blackheath in southeast london, is very punk: black spiky hair, white makeup, purple lipstick, studded leather belt and wristbands, rings on every finger, black tights, miniskirt, gold chains.
"I couldn't find a job anywhere," she said. "I'm still living at home with my mum, but I'll move out soon and start looking again. The job situation is awful."
Students at the French-speaking University of Brussels pointed out that with Belgian unemployment at over 11 percent, even doctors and lawyers had trouble finding jobs these days. "About 2,000 lawyers graduated last year," said Erik David, leturer in international law, "but there were jobs for only 1,000."
"I know many who are in a state of depression because they can find no work," said a young blonc student, blowing out her cheeks and rolling her eyes in simulated despair. She has several years of study ahead of her: For many in Brussels, the longer they can study, stay on campus, the better.
Frank Gupffert is an upper-middle-class young man just leaving high school in Amsterdam. "Well, it's true many are out of work," he said, "but I think many don't try very hard in Holland. You can tell any story you want at the unemployment office and they pay you. They don't have the staff to check up on you. People get their benefits, then work 'on the black' [on the side, without paying tax]."
Frank sounded a rare optimistic note about the future: "We have a crisis now, but in one or two years prices will stop rising and they'll start going down again. It will be easier to open up small businesses, because the need will be so great for them."
In Hamburg, Andreas Stolze wasn't so sure. "Even in the Protestant church in which I am studying to be a minister, there are no vacancies until 1984 or 1985, " he said.
"If young people want to be mechanics or other kinds of apprentices, [West] German companies have to pay for their training. But trade unions have put up their qualifying standards to protect members. Costs are high. Smaller companies can't afford them.
"So you have this picture of young people drinking, taking drugs, drifting closer to criminal lives. It's not as bad here as in Britain or Ireland, but it's getting worse."
He and other West Germans this correspondent spoke with felt that so far, the unemployed were not resorting to political action. There is no marked increase in Communist Party membership, for instance.
In Britain, unemployment has been one of the prime causes for the urban rioting this summer. The Conservative Party has been insulated from much of the anger, however, because its main support comes from the wealthier southeast of England, where people do relatively well.
Elsewhere in Europe, high social benefits cushion the impact of unemployment -- if not the lack of fulfillment and achievement that a challenging job offers.
In Dublin, I encountered both cheerfulness and gloom in a group of animated high-school students.
"The government should provide more jobs and better housing," said Gabriel Green, who has one year of high school to go. "There's not much future for young people in this country." But John Casey, in cloth cap and white sweater, chipped in: "We're all middle class. There'll be jobs for us. We'll have the contacts, through our parents, and so on."
Next: Rejecting parents' values -- new ways to live and work.