British youth: Is there a future in their future? -By- By David Winder, staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
Out of school and into a job. Easy? Expected? For British youth, that moment between school and the first job may well be the most challenging of their lives. Jobs are scarce in a nation where more than 3 million people have none. THERE were nine of them standing in a semicircle outside a small, untidy shopping center in one of those large, desolate, and rather impersonal English public housing estates. The shops, one-third boarded up and many of the rest selling shoddy goods under crude, hand-painted signs, told the economic story of the rundown Croxteth area of Liverpool, plagued by high unemployment and heroin drug abuse. In the local vernacular, Croxteth is where the smackheads (heroin users) hang out. By contrast, the more heavily black-populated area of Toxteth ``prides'' itself on being the place where only ``ganja'' (marijuana) not ``smack'' is used.
The nine young men were standing idly outside a bookmaker's shop where inside the air was blue with cigarette smoke and the floor littered with crumpled, discarded betting forms. Their greeting to a visitor from outside the area was calculatedly bitter: ``Welcome to Unemployment City.'' (Liverpool's long-standing unemployment problem is the result of an overdependence on a rapidly declining port and the virtual absence of an industrial base.)
Only one of the nine was employed -- part time. Most of these 18- and 19-year-olds couldn't recall a time when their fathers or mothers had worked. In some cases, not even their grandfathers, in their prime of life, had worked.
Most of them grew up not hearing an alarm rouse any family member to work in the morning. Children in these areas frequently arrive late for school because there are no alarm clocks at home.
Wally said he had a job for a while. He hesitated before announcing what it was. ``A grave digger,'' he said, to the derision of his peers. He was the only one who had tried to escape Liverpool's unemployment trap by heading south. Wally had gone ``backwards and forwards'' to London, he said, finding only occasional part-time jobs. Caught ``nicking'' (stealing) a car, he was now on probation. Living `on the dole'
As unemployed, they were, to use the British expression, ``on the dole.'' As young, unmarried people living at home, each collects just under 24 (about $33) a week in supplementary benefits. Those young and single only a short while out of work can draw just over 30 a week. Michael said he got his money on Tuesday and ``skinned'' (spent) it by Thursday.
``Now she's the one earning money around here,'' said one of the teen-agers pointing to a girl, perhaps 16 or 17, clattering past in a pair of scuffed white high heels. ``She's getting 60 quid [pounds]. She's a prostitute.'' The girl walked resolutely on, pretending not to hear.
A suggestion that they might benefit by learning skills on a one-year government-sponsored Youth Training Scheme was rejected. Said one, ``It only lasts a year and then you're back on the dole.'' The Youth Training Scheme work would earn them, however, a little over 27 a week.
The cynicism and skepticism of many Liverpool youths about future job prospects is a reflection of the negative economic situation in the area as a whole, even though the waterfront area has been revitalized and central Liverpool has many fine, well-appointed shops.
Liverpool's problems, though, are not centrally located. They are not necessarily inner-city problems such as is the case in other British cities. In the Liverpool area they are to be found on the outer perimeters, from Croxteth to Knowsley, where families of demolished inner-city slums were removed to public housing estates further out. Liverpool: economic problems
Since 1979, Liverpool has lost 40,000 jobs in the private sector. What worries many economists, given the city's chaotic economic condition, is that with such a small industrial or manufacturing base, Liverpool City Council has become the largest single employer with 31,000 employees. The virtually bankrupt city has just secured a Swiss loan to keep it afloat.
Liverpool, once a great city of the British Empire and, in its heyday, one of the world's key ports, still reflects in its imposing waterfront buildings a Victorian grandeur. Back in the days of sail it handled half the world's tonnage. Today, with the port facing the wrong way -- toward the shrinking trade with America, and not the expanding markets of Europe -- Liverpool is a shell of its former self. In just 30 years a city that was overly dependent on its port for its survival has seen its populati on dwindle from more than 800,000 to under 500,000. It ranks sixth in size among British cities now -- behind Leeds and Sheffield and marginally ahead of Bradford.
As its population grows smaller, so its unemployment rolls get larger. High unemployment has been around in Liverpool longer than other British cities, and because it has no strong industrial base it is likely to be the last to benefit if and when unemployment in Britain does begin to fall.
A telling observation from Ray Phillips, regional director of the Manchester-based Manpower Services Commission for the northwest region that embraces Merseyside is that while the self-employment base in most cities amounts to 12 percent of total jobs, it's only 8 percent in Liverpool. ``Four percent is a lot of darned jobs,'' he says.
While the Liverpool unemployment rate stands at 27 percent it is as much as 50 percent and more for youths in some of the the hardest-hit areas of Croxteth, Toxteth, and Knowsley. Sleeping in
Several years of persistently high unemployment -- the nation's unemployment has trebled from 1 million to 3.2 million over the past 5 or 6 years -- has brought with it disturbing social consequences.
Over in the much smarter and newer shopping mall at Huyton (the former parliamentary constituency of ex-Prime Minister Harold Wilson, now Lord Wilson of Rievaulx), one thing is immediately apparent: There are no 17- to 19-year-old teen-agers about, and it's the middle of the afternoon.
Many are still sleeping in, a phenomenon quite common among the unemployed. Sociologists regard this sleeping, or torpor, as a retreat from the real world, reflecting an inability to cope with it. But sometimes it is because nights have become days. In the upside-down world of unemployed youths, days inevitably become occasions in this area to catch up on last night's lost sleep.
``They don't get out on the street until 4 o'clock in the afternoon,'' says Paul Owens, assistant manager of the Huyton Job Centre. ``[They see] there's no point in living a normal life so they get up at 4 or 5 or 6 and then riot. They're totally disillusioned with life. It's the beginning of a new social climate.''
A policeman not much older than these 17- to 19-year-olds confirms the nocturnal pattern of unemployed teen-agers. ``They stay up at night. They roam around in gangs until 4 and 5 in the morning. A lot of them are anti-police. . . . We're the authority.''
A policeman of an generation, Constable George Walley of Huyton, notes increased crime among local youth: more shoplifting and more thefts from cars.
Asked if he thought there was any correlation between high teen-age crime and high teen-age unemployment, he replied unequivocally, ``Got to be.'' Employment equals incentives
Constable Walley says at one time the only offence committed by young people was being drunk and disorderly. ``Once they met a girl and settled down that was that.'' But with jobs scarce, ``They're not earning money so they can't go out at night and spend so they go out in gangs. With unemployment, all they get is flat Social Security -- just bed and board. No incentives to settle down. Greater employment would change that.''
The gangs are essentially a male phenomenon, but boredom is by no means restricted to them.
At the Labour Party's unemployment center at Huyton, May Sayonas decries the lack of outlets for teen-agers, particularly young women. ``There's nothing here for the females.'' She says that even though the five or six local leisure centers (indoor sports and recreation) have cheap rates, the majority of unemployed can't afford to use them.
``In this area we have a large number of unmarried mothers, 15- and 16-year-olds. They're dead until they're 20, when the baby reaches four or five.''
At 4 o'clock in Huyton on this gray drizzling Lancashire afternoon, dark was descending rapidly and shoppers began making their exits.
Up from the Unemployment Benefit Office to collect their dole money were three young men who turned out not to be teen-agers, but unmarried men in their early 20s. They, too, had no jobs. It's been that way ever since they left school seven or eight years ago. They had tried to get on a municipal grass-cutting project, but had been chased away. All were petty offenders. Two were on bail and scheduled to appear in court that week. No luxuries
Because of his age, one of the 24-year-olds, slightly built with a thin, tentative mustache, had collected a slightly larger two-week supplementary benefit check of 55 (about $77).
``More than half of it goes to me Ma for bed and board. The rest of it like to clothes [sic]. There's no money for luxuries,'' he says.
He was incongruously dressed in a fairly new sheepskin coat. He purchased it for 6 a week through a mail order catalogue.
``They're mad,'' he said. ``I pay them 1 a week. I said if they didn't like it you can have the coat back.''
Much of the time, they confessed, they go around the neighborhood pilfering copper piping which they sell for limited spending money.
Apart from the occasional temporary job, life centers on either ripping off stolen property or having a few drinks at the pub. What of the future? ``Waste,'' laconically replied one. ``I'd like to get a gun and shoot the police and the government.''
This nihilistic attitude is not very much different from the views of some of the long-term unemployed people interviewed. Yet it hardly characterizes all young, unemployed people, even in a job market as depressed as Merseyside.
Those willing to sign up for the Youth Training Scheme find that even though there is no guarantee of a job at completion, it gives them a sense of purpose while they pick up helpful skills, as the accompanying article shows.
The success rate of those who sign up and ultimately move onto jobs is around 40 percent in Merseyside, below the national rate, which is closer to 50.
There are some signs of improvement. The number of those under 19 unemployed in Merseyside has dropped marginally from 20,013 in October 1983 to 18,223 in October 1984 to 16,984 in October 1985.
Demographics are also having a long-term favorable effect. The bulge of 16- and 17-year-olds is shrinking. From the current population of 1.9 million 16- and 17-year-olds, it will fall quite rapidly to 1.2 million in 1993. Unless there is a serious decline in the British economy, youth unemployment will inevitably drop.
First of an occasional article on poverty in Britain.