Shadowing Greek push for debt relief: idle youth

A man sits outside a closed shop in Drama, northern Greece, on Jan. 15, 2015. A regional hub some 404 miles northwest of Athens, Drama and the surrounding area have a jobless rate of 50 percent, local labour groups say.

SAKIS MITROLIDIS/AFP/Getty Images

The confrontation between a debt-crippled Greece and the rest of the European Union is not only putting international markets on edge. It also highlights a region-wide concern that an entire generation of young people could be shut out of the job market.

Grappling with a devastating depression, Greece has an overall unemployment rate of around 25 percent. But the jobless rate for Greek workers under the age of 25 is a staggering 50 percent.

Those numbers, fueling the tide of dissent that recently swept the anti-austerity Syriza party to victory in the country's national elections, will frame the talks when Greek officials press their case for debt relief on Wednesday with eurozone finance ministers. Greece wants to renegotiate its $270 billion bailout package with international lenders, which for now are refusing to budge.

The loan arrangement lapses on Feb. 28, with Greece potentially facing expulsion from the eurozone if the talks fail to broker an agreement. That, in turn, could send shock waves across the currency bloc and across the global economy, which already faces slowing growth.

Greece may be the current worse-case scenario when it comes to jobless youth, but it's not alone. The European Commission reports that over 5 million people ages 25 and younger were unemployed in the 28 EU member countries during the second quarter of last year, an unemployment rate of nearly 22 percent, or more than double the jobless rate for adult workers.

There's also the issue of so-called NEETS: young Europeans who are "not in employment, education or training." UNICEF reported last year that about 7.5 million young people across the European Union -- a number equivalent to Switzerland's total population -- were in this category in 2013.

And that prolonged unemployment diminishes a young person's chance of finding lasting work as they age, creating long-term socioeconomic problems and sowing the seeds for political extremism.

Some European nations have launched work programs aimed at young people. However, as analysis last May in the Eurasia Review pointed out, Europe's long-term economic recovery depends on its coming to terms with its youth employment problem.

Otherwise, it noted, there is "a risk of skipping an entire generation of qualified labor, many of whom lack the financial means or assistance required for re-training. If subsequent generations cannot cope with the crisis, Europe will witness a new wave of unemployed graduates annually."