While the Western media loved to portray the so-called “Arab Spring” as a Western style Democracy revolution the reality was far more complex. One of the largest motivating factors behind revolutions across Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere was the lack of economic opportunity, particularly for younger generations.
The battle against high unemployment rates was just as important as the battle for political representation. Now with jobless rates among younger generations at historical highs across Europe and the United States the prospect of instability and even revolution could become very real.
The Southern states of Europe have been among the hardest hit. With Portugal, Spain, Greece, and Italy all on the verge of economic ruin the prospect of mass protests have become very real. Already Greece has been racked by numerous large scale protests though so far they have remained relatively peaceful and controllable.
Many people tend to think that European countries have a stable democratic history; that is false. Greece experienced a brutal civil war after World War II, and was ruled by the military until 1974. Spain was under the rule of a dictator named Francisco Franco until 1973 (Franco came to power after a brutual civil war from 1936-1939). Portugal was ruled by a dictator until Antonio de Oliveira Salazar 1970, and did not become a democracy from167-1976. Italy has an incredibly in-stable World War II history, with over 50 different Governments in power since 1945. France was nearly taken over by the communists after the war. These are just a few examples, which make Eastern Europe appear to be far more stable.
In the United States young adults have been hit the hardest by the recession with many analysts now predicting a so-called “lost generation.” Previous studies have proven that on average people who enter the workforce during a recession suffer from lower earnings for the rest of their life.
While the overall unemployment rate in the United States rests at approximately 8 percent the unemployment rate among those under 35 years old is a staggering 16 percent as of November 2012. Worse, many individuals under 25 have gone to graduate school or accepted jobs below their qualifications, thus skewing the numbers.
Many young adults are now being forced to live at home with their parents and with dwindling prospects for full-time employment many are watching their years of education go to waste. While college education is often parading as the solution to unemployment, recent studies suggest that only 1 in 2 college graduates actually obtain a college level job.
This large mass of under and unemployed workers could now become a potential political force to be reckoned with. The “Occupy” movement demonstrated the desire among many youths for change, while many elements of the “Tea Party” have also been powered by younger generations. Still, neither of these movements have fully evolved into the type of mass protests that could destabilize society in the fashion of an Arab Spring.
So far across Europe and the United States many social support systems, including the college system, are providing enough relief and opportunity to keep tensions from boiling over. However, increased funding cuts will weaken these social safety networks. College tuition rates will continue to rise, unemployment benefits will run out, and entitlement checks, such as social security, will continue to shrink.
With the United States and countries across Europe now being crushed by high debt levels the continuation of welfare programs is now becoming unsustainable. With the private sector posting a slow recovery that seems to be benefiting only certain people with specific skills, many are beginning to wonder where any global recovery will come from.
If a recovery does not materialize in the near future, however, and prospects for youth around the United States and Europe remain low the likelihood of mass protests will only increase. In smaller countries, such as Greece and Portugal, bona-fide revolutions are even a distinct possibility. And in the face of such protests or even revolutions the European Union will only grow weaker and simmering tensions in the United States will continue to rise.
Sitting at home, jobless but often well-educated and grasping social media the lost generations could represent a serious political force. While many of these people hail from vastly different backgrounds and even hold different political ideologies, their common plight could bring them together.
A similar phenomenon occurred during the Arab Spring when Islamic hardliners and social reformists were brought together to battle long-standing regimes in Egypt and elsewhere. Without a dramatic change in events in the near future the U.S.A. and European Union may soon have to contend with the full brunt of their young and underemployed populations.