This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What's to Become of Today's Younger Generation?

This week's Economist has a special section on the problem of youth unemployment all over the globe. There are a lot of familiar people quoted in the story, and too much detail to cover in one blog session, but let me hit some highlights:
This report takes a global view, since 85% of young people live in developing countries, and focuses on practical matters, such as education and jobs. And it will argue that the young are an oppressed minority, held back by their elders. They are unlike other oppressed minorities, of course. Their “oppressors” do not set out to harm them. On the contrary, they often love and nurture them. Many would gladly swap places with them, too.
Every single generation of humans has likely been "oppressed" by the elders. This is the nature of social control, in which the older generation tries to keep society from changing too much. 
In some respects the young have never had it so good. They are richer and likely to live longer than any previous generation.
Yet much of their talent is being squandered. In most regions they are at least twice as likely as their elders to be unemployed. Over 25% of youngsters in middle-income nations and 15% in rich ones are NEETs: not in education, employment or training.
These are the kinds of generalizations that require more explanation. I don't have time to do this  research myself, but my guess is that the biggest issue is relative cohort size. In countries where the younger cohort is larger than the older cohort, the demands on the economy to keep growing in order to create ever more jobs may well be beyond societal resources. This is the problem of sustainability. Can we continue to have more people every year, and have them all be better off than before? The realistic answer is maybe not. We are in historically uncharted territory. 

The author of the special report, Robert Guest, is an economist promoting free market capitalism as a solution to problems and I don't have a problem with that in general. But, the ubiquity of income inequality--called out just before the last two Davos meetings by OxFam--is a barrier. Humans living in societies need to share resources if everyone is to thrive. The concentration of too much income and wealth anywhere--whether by the government or private firms--is deleterious to the human condition. I thought of this recently when Paul Ryan became Speaker of the US House of Representatives. His family's wealth as a private road construction firm came heavily from the government paying to have roads built. That is the type of resource sharing that most countries are currently not doing, and that is where the "oppression" lies. If we get back on that track, everyone--young and old--will be better off.

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