For a long time, we’ve taken economic progress for granted. The promise has always been: work hard and give your kids a better life than you had. By getting on the property ladder, and through access to education and new technologies, younger people are supposed to have better life chances and be able to take advantage of social mobility.
In Europe, the 2008 financial crisis brought that promise into question. While unemployment dropped to record low levels, the continent also experienced “unprecedented wage stagnation” according to the OECD. House prices grew faster than incomes, making it more difficult for young people to get a foot on the housing ladder. At the same time, some economists worried that young Europeans in particular were, despite low levels of unemployment, being faced with poor job security and low quality jobs.
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from HJo, who is optimistic: “Young people nowadays have more possibilities and more chances than any generation before”. Is this true, particularly in terms of access to technology and opportunities for travelling and working globally?
To get a response, we put HJo’s comment to Flavia Colonnese, Policy and Advocacy Team Leader at the European Youth Forum, an association of national youth councils and international non-governmental youth organisations across Europe. What would she say?
It is true that new technological advancements provide new opportunities that young people can take advantage of, but I think you need to really be a bit careful when we talk about the future of work. There are very exciting opportunities, but also a few risks – there is a lot of precariousness in the labour market when it comes to young people, and adding technical development, including automation, could also result in additional challenges for accessing the labour market and finding jobs.
So, on the one hand, it is true that it’s a great opportunity, but we need to really make sure that we invest in skills and making sure young people are ready for the changes that are going to come with the future of work. That means developing technical skills, but also not forgetting transversal skills that are very important – critical thinking, problem solving, and so on. And, on the other hand, also trying to shape the future of work the way we want it, so having a proactive attitude towards the future of work rather than just letting the change happen without us having a say in it. Young people will be the key actors in the future of work, so it’s important young people have a say in this and we shape the future of work the way we want to see it.
Some of the ways in which economists such as myself try to measure society are sometimes very blunt tools, such as GDP per capita. Just by boiling it all down to one number, sometimes we really oversimplify the many ways life is changing for different groups in society.
So, what HJo says is completely 100% true. In many ways, life for young people has improved. Travel is more accessible, the internet is a thing – meaning information is much more accessible than it ever was. But I don’t think that takes away from the very real fact that being able to get on the property ladder, being able to own a family home in a city where you can get a good job, has become less affordable, especially for young people.
That doesn’t take away from the fact you can have a holiday in Thailand for cheaper, or you have Wikipedia which is an amazing resource… But, to be blunt, I’m from a relatively ordinary background, a lot of my friends are relatively ordinary people, and they want houses to raise their family in, and having access to Wikipedia isn’t going to give you bedrooms for your kids. Now, I love to travel and I use the internet, but families need homes.
Will the next generation be better off than their parents? Do they have more opportunities, thanks to new technology, than any generation in history? Or are they going to struggle to ever get on the property ladder, and have worse job security and fewer prospects compared to their parents? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!