Europe’s graduates: lecture halls to poverty lines

Article published on April 26, 2010
Article published on April 26, 2010
At best, many graduates find themselves facing a marathon of internships, and at worst a life under the poverty line. Unemployment in times of crisis brings social consequences too. The EU is reacting to prove that a degree is for life, and not just for christmas

'We are grateful for your interest in the advertised position, but are sorry to say that we are unable to select you this time.' The questions as to 'why not?' when being refused a job are generally not very helpful. The anonymous 'quantity of highly qualified applicants' is the main reason for many job applicant rejections. It proves all those studies which claim that a university degree is still the best insurance against unemployment and the loss of social status wrong.

Personally, my path to the recruitment agency in Germany in October 2009 brought one sobering recognition. 'They' were happy to take me into the pool of applicants but were actually never able to arrange any placements. And then there’s of course the crisis. Since then I’ve been swimming around in the pool of applicants without result. Up until now my applications have been unsuccessful. My funds are running low, so I have accepted a 400 euro job (£344, 56) and occasionally do some tutoring work – which offers more of a rainy day fund than an income.

Academics suffer in the crisis too

Germans find themselves signing on the dole the second they get their graduation certificatesBeing unable to take part in a social and economic life - lacking the resources to live a socially acceptable lifestyle - leads to increasing social exclusion. Having a meagre income and working just a few hours per week means that participating in social and cultural life has to take a back seat for young graduates too. Making application photos, paying for internet access and postal charges help to eat away at money stores. Anyone who doesn’t get a helping hand from their family is pointed directly to the state unemployment benefits from day one of their graduation. The graduate unemployment rate for young people is not high either.

However, according to the latest eurostat (the European Union's statistics agency)  study from February 2010, those worst hit in Europe are actually the Baltic states and also Spain. The latter are currently struggling with a rate of youth unemployment at 41% - that means that almost half of the so-called generación ni-ni in Spain find themselves currently looking for jobs. Meanwhile youth unemployment across Europe is currently at 20.6%, whereas the general rate of unemployment in the EU is settling at 9.6%. This intern generation now counts almost twice as many job hunters as in their parents’ generation.

The financial crisis and its consequences on the European economy and the employment markets seem to have strongly affected even the ‘privileged' groups of the employment market in 2009 – the academics. German businesses as well as state and municipal institutions imposed employment caps in 2009. Europe as a whole is currently displaying one of the highest jumps in youth unemployment since the burst dotcom bubble at the beginning of the 1990s, during which many academics first lost their jobs. In Germany 60, 000 academics currently count as being 'poor' according to a report by the German institute for economic research ('Deutschen Instituts für Wirtschaftsforschung', DIW). The number of short-term working relationships has also increased for academics. After a few years or even just months young academics often find themselves in the job market once again. This is what happened to Elena C, a young woman who completed her masters in migration studies at the university of the Basque country (Universidad del País Vasco) in September 2009, and who has had work experience abroad. 'Two months after my degree I found a short-term position for half a year,' she says. 'My contract runs out on 14 May, but I still haven’t found a new job. I’ll have to sign on as unemployed again.'

'20/20': poverty goals on an EU level

Despite the current figures people continue to complain about the young generation’s skills shortage and lack of qualifications. The European commission's Europe 2020 strategy for 'smart, sustainable and inclusive growth', which will be adopted in June 2010, is meant to be a reaction to the crisis. It claims that a higher level of training would increase employment capability and lower the risk of poverty. On top of this the switch between the moments of graduation and gaining employment should in future be smoother. However, European youth and student organisations criticise the fact that certain member states object to concrete percentages. They are worried that things won’t get past sluggish statements of intention about supporting training, creating jobs and fighting poverty. 'The acceptance of concrete, binding percentage rates in the conclusion of the Europe 2020 strategy is absolutely necessary,' says Tine Radinja, chairperson of the European youth forum (YFJ).

The EU commission's 20/20 'poverty reduction targets' will be implemented in June

The financial aspect of social exclusion is one thing, and the mental aspects another. Young academics in particular do not at all expect to have to stand in queue in the job office after graduating or to have send applications off for months on end. Because of this it hits many particularly hard when it gets to this stage. 'I felt myself to be somehow deceived and that my achievements weren’t being acknowledged. After my degree I did the same sort of jobs as I had before university,' says Anna. However you should under no circumstances let yourself feel resigned – everyone asked agrees on that. You must continue to apply for jobs, use the time for further training and keep your eyes and ears open. A certain amount of luck is also important – but an appropriate position must above all in times of crisis be 'earned'.

Images: Absolvent ©Keenahn; Hartz IV ©4Suxx; Student ©Pucki_loves_sushi/ all courtesy of Flickr