They are the lost generation. From North Africa to Europe and America to South and Southeast Asia, millions of young people are struggling to find jobs as the world recovers from the impact of the global economic crisis. In some parts of the world they have taken to the streets demanding change, some leave for other countries while others simply give up. Asia may have weathered the financial storm better than other regions but its young people, especially university graduates, are still finding it difficult to land jobs.
In industrially advanced countries like South Korea, university students find themselves being forced to go overseas to find work rather than stay at home to do low-paying menial jobs. Those jobs are taken up by migrant labor which Korea imports every year.
In Malaysia young skilled people are leaving for more attractive jobs in places like Singapore, Australia and Canada. For years Malaysian companies have complained about the country's "brain drain" and shortage of skilled labor. Economists say the shortage of skills has severely affected the country's ability to attract more high-technology industries.
China, the world's largest manufacturing engine, is finding that it too has produced more graduates than it can use. According to a recent report by Bloomberg Businessweek, the number of Chinese graduates has quintupled in the past decade. It quoted Anke Schrader, a researcher at the China Center for Economics and Business in Beijing as saying, "The Chinese economy has just not been able to create that many jobs for high-skilled labor."
This isn't just a front-page story. As shown in the following photograph, it's the center spread as well.
Joblessness in India is an unexploded bomb.
S. Korea suffers from 'overeducation'
Experts warn Indonesia over youth out of work.
What's on everyone's mind is that large masses of educated but unemployed youth are fertile ground for people with radical ideas, revolutionaries and terrorists. And if all these young people are out of work, what becomes of the constantly expanding middle classes required for consumerism-driven growth? Fearful times, indeed.
That they are here is not surprising. Robert Reich's The Work of Nations: Preparing Ourselves for 21st Century Capitalism was published in 1992. A review summarizing the contents can be found here. Reich, whose was Bill Clinton's Secretary of Labor, wrote from the perspective of someone worried about the exporting of American jobs and the squeeze that the global economy was and continues to put on the U.S.A.'s middle class. Catering to the anxieties of those who realize what's going on has become a growth industry for management gurus like Daniel Pink, whose book A Whole New Mind is both a shrewd diagnosis of mis-educated people stumbling into a world for which they are largely unprepared and a canny exploitation of pop psychology (the book has been translated into 20 languages). The "Wow" in this news comes to me from two facts. The first is that the issues in question have already gone global and aren't just problems for anthropologists worried about the absence of tenure-track jobs and how to apply what they've learned. They are affecting far more people than the members of our small academic tribe. The second is that this story is published by China Daily, which I have imagined as something like (OK, this dates me) Pravda.
Keith Hart and his colleagues have begun to address some of these issues in The Human Economy. That's a great start. But to my younger friends and colleagues here I put these questions: This is your world. This is your life. How will you help us to understand it? What will you do about it? What does anthropology have to contribute?