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The idea of the lost generation—twentysomethings and thirtysomethings who find themselves unable to break into the labour force due to recession—has long existed as a trope. Few countries remained unscathed: even European countries like Spain and France and the usually resilient Australia have reported that youth unemployment is a huge concern.

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However, the instability of the Middle East has made it a priority in the region, with curbing youth unemployment taking a front seat at the World Economic Forum in Jordan this year.

Devex reports that nearly half the population of MENA (Middle East and North Africa) are under 25 years old, and their unemployment rate hovers at a staggering 30%.

Youth unemployment has ramifications beyond the purely economical. Unemployment is a deeply personal problem, leading to internal conflict, which can express itself through external hostility.

The unique case of East Germany and West Germany, two different states with two similar cultures yet markedly different economic circumstances, allowed scholars the ability to study how different factors affected crime. One such study linked the rise of extremism and crime with high rates of unemployment.

The argument that unemployment may be an important driving force behind right-wing extremist sentiments is prominent among historians. Several studies have argued that high unemployment rates facilitated the rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s.

The study is careful to state that youth unemployment does not seem to be more or less dangerous than unemployment overall. The vulnerability of today’s youth to psychological destabilization, however, combined with higher levels of frustrated energy, can be a dangerous combination. As the study states:

unemployment, or the threat of becoming unemployed causes a loss in status and feelings of deprivation. The perceived gap between people’s expectations and achievements may trigger anxieties; these may, in turn, transform into negative feelings towards, and reactions to, groups such as immigrants and asylum seekers (Hemes and Knudsen, 1992; Runciman and Bagley, 1969). As a consequence, people may even develop a preference for authoritarian leaders, an anti-foreigner ideology, and violent predispositions.

This may seem alarmist, as most countries have some level of unemployment, and are not concerned with the rise of authoritarianism. However, the study explains that there is a tipping point. The correlation between higher crime “only becomes relevant once a critical level of unemployment has been exceeded.”

Luckily, there are ways to better prospects for youth. Although the Middle East is a hotbed of religious tension, political turmoil, and extremist beliefs, stimulating entrepreneurship has offered glimmers of hope, as increased economic activity tends to bring jobs with it. Startups are good employment opportunities; even with low salaries, they offer valuable experience, occupation, and potential for growth.


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The Scandinavian Journal of Economics, Vol. 113, No. 2 (June 2011), pp. 260-285