A deviation of topic – Unemployment

I want to write today about unemployment. I know – total direction change from video games, geekiness and the Internet. But then I have been writing about things like potato so…but anyway, stay with me!

I’m unemployed and looking for a job. Unemployment is a ‘hot’ topic now – but even the BBC news (which I, maybe naively, hold up to be sensible and everything) is reporting on ‘youth’ unemployment in a very…accusatory way. I get there is a lot of unemployment, but blaming young people isn’t going to help. The whole horrible attitude doesn’t help either. So, I wanted to get my thoughts down.

1. Wage equality is a nice and sensible thing to start with right? We all believe in wage equality, or at least most of us do. People doing the same work should be paid the same – regardless of gender at least. But apparently not age. I’ve never honestly understood the different rates of wages. I get that the general idea is the youth wage is for young people who live at home – and the assumption is they don’t need money to survive on, it’s just extra. But when that isn’t the case…it’s not like food costs a young person less, or that an enmployer will go ‘oh well, you get this wage instead’. On top of that, despite the general aggressive attitude being ‘young people should be more adult and responsible and get jobs’ – well if you want them to be adults, treat them like it. Pay them properly. But no – the answer to youth unemployment is to “freeze the national minimum wage youth rate and to introduce a one-year apprenticeship scheme from January” according to Confederation of British Industry chief policy director, Katja Hall.

Another new article, here adds more ‘fantastic’ ideas for solving the problem. Giving employers money to take young people on for set periods of time while having no obligation to pay them will not help. Those employers will hire young people for the bare minimum of that time, not pay them and not hire them afterwards. This is happening with supermarkets offering placements – work then, not pay them, get a new one after a number of weeks. This isn’t fostering a sense of worth in young people. It isn’t going to make employers think young people are worth it. All we have is legal slave labour allowed by the government. Young people need more employment rights and to be taken seriously as adults by the government and by employers.

2. Perspective. The job market is crap right now. My experience so far with job searching is that, yes, there are new jobs everyday – but it is no where near equal to the number of unemployed people. In terms of applying this to youth – it should be really made clear to more people that of course the younger and less experienced job seekers are going to find getting a job harder. Employers care about making money, right? A lot of the jobs I see each day very clearly say ‘experience required’ – it’s a lot quicker for them to get someone with experience to work with less training that a young person who hasn’t had a job before. But the BBC big youth unemployment article, this one again with the painfully stereotyped unemployed youth picture – doesn’t point this out. There is at least this one which is more sympathetic. Because despite the fact that it should really be obvious why there are so many young unemployed people, the media sure is loving using them to the fullest. And we really don’t need to keep fuelling this whole hate for the young thing.

3. Trust in education. Which has taken a beating. Not only is it now prohibitively expensive to stay in education to do a degree (though you can get very far towards a degree in a college for much cheaper) having one doesn’t seem to help all that much. There are plenty of people I know who have degrees and are doing work that really is beneath them because either the jobs they’re qualified for don’t exist or they have a strange catch 22 experience system. So to get this specific job you need to have experience in this specific job which you can’t because the only way to get this specific job is to have experience…. Hurts your brain, right?

Not only that, but the attitude towards people who go to university is frustrating. Often we come across thoughtless attitudes like ‘University is easier than work’ and ‘ University is just playing around for three to four years.’ It’s not…really it isn’t. I appreciate that this is just my words but I can’t help but argue the point. A lot of people I went to university with were serious about studying – we do not take this lightly. For each year we went to University to ‘play around’ we got into thousands of pounds of debt. A level of debt that if you look it up, as a young female person living in the north of England I will most likely never be able to pay off. But it’s more than the debt obviously. Each year you have to study a number of modules that require you to really think, to write and evaluate. Not just go to a building a do the same set tasks each day – which I appreciate is tiring, and hard. But so is University, it doesn’t need to be belittled.

So we’ve got a lack of jobs hiring educated young people, and there’s a lack of young people going into education because it’s expensive and doesn’t help. But that isn’t really the whole problem…

4. The whole shitty attitude. The British public or more precisely, what the British media (good and bad) is telling the British public to think…which ends up being quite a list: dislike education, dislike educated people, dislike young people, and dislike foreigners (which I’m not going to go into fully, too big a topic). We don’t want to pay for education and educated people are full of themselves. Young people are ungrateful and dangerous – just like foreigners coming and taking all our work. Except really that’s all a pile of rubbish.

If we aren’t going to pay for education then people won’t have the skills for work – in particularly very specific work. Doctor’s for example! If you’re going to complain that you have a foreign doctor (because lucky them they come from a family and country that still believes in the importance of education) while also complaining that you don’t want to pay for education…well then, where do you expect your doctors to come from? For them to just spring up out of the ground? While I lament the lack of education support I still have a sensible outlook – I’m glad I at least have a doctor.

Young people are not animals to be pointed at in fear and superiority. You’re not helping. All you’ve achieved there is raising a generation that feels angry and insecure. I keep hearing them being called ‘the lost generation’ on the news – a generation I’m apparently part of as I fit in the 16-24 age bracket. I’m not lost. There are not enough jobs for everyone. It’s not as if each day more and more people are suddenly overwhelmed by a desire to not work – they’re losing or are unable to find a job. It’s very hard to get a job without experience – so a lot of these unemployed people are young.

A recent episode of Horizon was a whole feature of unemployment, with the presenter talking ‘tough and honest’ to young unemployed people. Except really, all they’d done is found young people who weren’t able to properly and eloquently voice their opinions on the subject – so they were easy targets. And watching something like that, and reading all these news articles that are telling me I’m part of a group of lazy people who decide not to work is a bit of a slap in the face.

A lot of young people want jobs, and they’re tying to find them. You’re still not helping.

5. Employment as worth. I do think having a job can give you a sense of worth and achievement. That’s great – you’re doing a job that gives you money for being able to do something. But the other side of this same argument is a hurtful and now unfortunately pervasive one. You aren’t worth anything – or at least seen as being worth anything – unless you have a job. All you are then is a black hole taking up space and money. Which is a horrible system and isn’t going to do us any favours in the long run.

The way the job centre works is a sad but true reflection of this. Because despite all of these problems – the lack of enough jobs and the difficulty in finding work as a young person, the system is cold. Instead of feeling like I’m really being helped with finding a job, I feel like when I go in there (with their i appreciate, necessarily unfriendly security staff) that I have to be very careful about what I say or do or they’ll take money off me – the money that I get that’s the bare minimum to live on…and you can thank the government for making it legal to deprive people of the minimum amount of money to live on. It doesn’t feel friendly or helpful – I feel nervous and sick whenever I go, which is silly. I haven’t done anything wrong. I apply for jobs every week. But the way it’s set up is to see worth in work – and no worth without it.

Because I am worth more than my job – when I get one (a definite when) I will still be me. I will still be a nice person. I will still be into video games, tea, the Internet, and cute things. I’ll just happen to go somewhere for a set number of hours a week too. And everyone else is worth more than their job. If you love and try you’re absolute hardest at work that’s great – that’s still an achievement (I don’t want to come across as anti-work), but I’m no less a person for not doing that.

Because not everyone is cut from the same person sized cookie cutter. Some people want to raise children – and I really don’t see how this is a bad thing. I would honestly rather we had a system which supported parents properly in raising their own children, rather than a system that encouraged parents to work and to pay someone else to raise their children. Some people want to volunteer, which is something else I think is great – giving up your time for free, to help people that wouldn’t get help otherwise. But the government and the news don’t seem to support these anymore. We’ve been told about big society and helping the government work but when the job centre official policy is that you will still have this cold and aggressive agreement and will still need to find a job and jump through hoops even if you do volunteer then this whole big society thing just won’t work. A lot less people are going to volunteer.

6. Unemployment theory – a big and complicated subject to jump into if ever there was one. I’m far from an expect, obviously but I can give you a little bit of information gleaned through my learned ability to read overly wordy academic writing (thanks to my time at University, no less). The whole Wikipedia article on unemployment is a long and actually fairly interesting read (like fact that we’ve had a whole bunch of recessions in recent history).

So, there’s classical unemployment theory, which this picture from Wikipedia should demonstrate easily enough. Basically, there is always an equilibrium in the number of unemployed people there is. Put in much more definitive terms – there is always really some unemployment. It’s not some big evil thing that only exists now. Just think about it – to use a blunt and not fantastic argument, if we were all  employed…what would happen to the job centre? Well, either all those people would work different jobs or be unemployed…

Cyclical (or Keynesian) unemployment, which is similar to classical unemployment in the idea of a constant level of unemployment, but says (as the name suggests really) that it’s cyclical. Demand rises and falls, economies get better and worse – and unemployment rises and falls too. All pretty sensible stuff. Wikipedia even helpfully points out that deficiency spending is a Cyclical/Keynesian solution to unemployment – spending money to get out of a slump. Sounds good, right?

(A good old) Marxist theory of unemployment – unemployment is inherent in the bad, bad system of capitalism and (of course) we should all be socialists. Which I do like in a lot of ways. I am quite a socialist – I think everyone should get free medical care and be able to look after their own kids and live the way they want to. But I don’t think (at least not at all any time soon) that you can seriously say ‘suddenly turn the country socialist’ seriously – it would be hard, even if the sentiment is a good one. I do think (and this may be a bit of a tangent) we should change the system we have and soon – it’s two big things, that really only work as a pair. Encouraging people to work less so they have a better work life balance, which would be achievable if we had a living wage rather than a minimum wage. But I’m no economist, I’m just an optimist.

But to get back to my main point – there are lots of theories of unemployment, more than I’ve listed here. But one thing they do have in common is this idea of a constant level of unemployment. There will always be unemployment. Obviously right now, we’re in an economic slump the world over but I do still think it’s important to point out that even without this there will be unemployment – it’s a fact of life…not some evil unseen monster caused by violent kids on street corners.

7. The reality of unemployment – which is not nearly as nice as the perception. America has a much better term for this perception than us – the idea of the ‘Welfare Queen’. The origin of this idea is an understandable one – unscrupulous women and men fraudulently using the welfare system, and I’m sure this is something that did and probably does still happen. But these are such a minority. The problem however, is that while in reality very few people commit fraud on the benefit system – the negative idea is still there, and not at all helped by the huge and exaggerated coverage the news gives to benefit fraud. A lot of the built up perception now goes beyond the idea of fraud and simply into principle. That all people on benefits are low and scum and just taking money because they don’t want to work.

Well, being unemployed isn’t fun – nor is it a lot of money to live on. Luckily I’m young and haven’t been on benefits for very long, I know people who’ve had it much worse. But we’re not criminals for needing money to live on, nor are we lazy or worthless. But again this is because of that whole bad attitude towards people, young and/or unemployed.

So, that was my long rant on unemployment and annoyance, set off by the news and other such things. I honestly wish we were nicer to people regardless of their age. But I don’t want to just rant without reasoning (to just complain and not think of ideas). I wish the benefit system was still set up to help, rather than to disregard everyone for the more important aim of weaning out the minority of fraudulent people. I wish the government would spend rather than cut. I wish businesses were encouraged to take more young people on because they’re worth it – not because they’re cheap labour. I wish we had an education system provided properly by the government that disregarded the media hyped poor perception of education. I wish things weren’t blamed on young people, unemployment or foreigners anymore than it’s actually true. And I wish people were nicer still.

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