Is Youth Unemployment to Blame for Occupy Wall Street?

NEW YORK (MainStreet) — What does the Occupy Wall Street movement have in common with the many protests that spread throughout the Middle East and Europe this year? They all may owe some of their popularity to the greater-than-average number of unemployed young people in these regions.

The unemployment rate for 15- to 24-year-olds worldwide is expected to decline by an ever-so-slight 0.1% this year to 12.6%, but only after having shot up to 12.7% in 2009 and remaining stuck at that rate in 2010, according to a new report from the International Labour Organization. As daunting as the global unemployment rate may be, it’s much worse in many of the countries that have experienced protests and civil unrest this year, which may not be a coincidence.

The unemployment rate for young people in the United States stood at 18.4% in 2010, well above the global average and an increase of nearly 8% from the rate in 2007 before the recession shook the labor market, the data in the report show. Likewise countries like Italy and Greece, which have experienced widespread protests, have seen their youth unemployment rates skyrocket to 27.8% and 32.9%, respectively. In the Middle East, which was swept by uprisings, the unemployment rate for young people was 25.5%, though this is relatively unchanged from before the global financial crisis took hold.

According to the report, rampant unemployment among youth has contributed to a “collective frustration” that “has been a contributing factor to protest movements around the world this year, as it becomes increasingly difficult for young people to find anything other than part-time and temporary work.”

While the report does not specifically mention the U.S., it does run through the various ways disenfranchised youths may react to a lousy labor market in various countries, whether it’s emigrating to a better labor market or resorting to drugs, both of which have happened in Ireland, or opting to protest the current state of affairs with varying degrees of violence, as took place in Greece, Italy, the United Kingdom and of course parts of the Middle East.