Thursday, February 24, 2011

Young, Smart and Searching for a Dream

Yesterday I wrote about the boomers and how they’re still one of the most important consumer groups on the planet.

Funding the cost of the retiring boomer generation is a headache many Western nations have to deal with. Younger generations have been much less populous, creating a demographic mushroom cloud where a shrinking tax base faces the challenge of stemming rising costs associated with pensions, healthcare and other services required – and demanded – by retiring boomers.

Migration can compound or relieve the problem. Over 2010 and 2011, 120,000 people are expected to leave Ireland in response to the Emerald Isle’s economic woes. In Australia it’s the reverse. At 2.1% Australia’s population growth, two-thirds of which is driven by new arrivals, is double the world average.

The real worry is the next generation, aka our future. Many on the move are young, smart, and searching for a dream that’s evaporated, as the New York Times reported in a piece on Southern Europe. Youth unemployment is around 40% in Spain and 28% in Italy. A whole generation – the best educated in the history of the Mediterranean – is jobless, fearing for their future. Says one young jobless women with a law degree, a masters, and fluency in five languages: “I have everything except a death certificate.”

BusinessWeek weighs in with ‘The Youth Unemployment Bomb’, highlighting some big points and chilling statistics. In the Middle East and North Africa youth unemployment is at roughly 24% according to the IILO. In most other places around the world the numbers are in the teens. In the US, 18% of 16 to 24 year olds were unemployed in December 2010.

In some countries a gulf is deepening between the young, educated and unemployed, and older generations who are holding tightly to their jobs in the post-crash world. Disaffected young people are protesting, or in places like Tunisia and Egypt, launching revolutions. Others are dropping out of the workforce altogether, depressed and resigning themselves to joblessness.

The other option is to move, if you can afford to. Packing up your stuff and shifting across the world in search of a better life is a shift as old as time. Fortunately today, mobility is easier and choice of Promised Land greater.

The challenge for many countries is re-invention in the face of the global economic squeeze. The events of Egypt show the tolerance for command and control is at an end; that people want freedom; that the end can come very quickly; and then what? I don’t have many answers, but I do know that ideas hold the key to everything. If all leaders present are a set of tough choices, they won’t bring people along with them. Ideas are the currency of the future.