High levels of youth unemployment in most European countries and in the US have been an increasing source of the distrust of political parties and governments. On the one hand, the economic crisis has made entry into job markets more difficult for young people, and there is no prospect of a quick fix. On the other hand, the more structural shift towards increasingly competitive and permanently changing socio-economic environments demands more from both individuals and public institutions as young people begin their careers. Against this background, too many young people currently drop out of school and lack direction. For young workers, and especially for the disadvantaged, failure to find a first job can have negative long-term consequences.
Although the most promising way of providing opportunity is through boosting growth and employment – fostering more and better jobs, enabling people to escape poverty and offering real career prospects – specific measures focused on young people are essential so that they do not fall through a growing gap between mismatched institutions and the changing requirements of the global economy.
A specific effort focused on youth opportunity is critical for progressives who in the austerity-stimulus drama are often miscast in the role of indiscriminate defenders of government spending opposite conservatives who mask social service and pro-business tax cuts as growth-oriented "reform." When equality of opportunity seems a fading memory for many, and the government seems unable to help, what social democrats and progressives have to say to today's young people is key to ensuring a more sustainable and equitable growth model. Offering young people the opportunity to gain the skills they need for the new jobs of the new century is also key if progressives are going to stake claim to an optimistic, future-oriented economic agenda.