At 29, Samira Ahidar just got a permanent job, her first.
Ahidar, who still lives with her parents, dropped out of school a decade ago and her adult life has been dominated by the search for work. She would still be jobless if it were not for a job creation scheme that employs her at an elderly care home.
“I’ve no idea where I’ll be in five years time,” said Ahidar, dressed in an orange apron that comes with her new role. “It is so hard to find work, you feel like giving up.”
Ahidar does not live in Greece or Spain, countries where as many as one in two young people are without work, but in the wealthy Belgian port city of Antwerp. With its stunning 16th-century Gothic houses, the city is a world centre for diamond trading and boasts a cutting-edge fashion industry. It also has a fast-growing number of unemployed twenty somethings.
Youth unemployment is notoriously a problem of southern Europe. What is less obvious, as the euro zone slips into its second recession in just three years, is the scale of the problem in the north.
A quarter of 18-to-25 year olds in Antwerp are now jobless, up from 19% in 2008. In some parts of Brussels, the Belgian and European capital and the third-richest region in the European Union, youth joblessness is as high as 40%. In France, Britain and Sweden, as many as one in five young people are now out of work.
The rising pool of jobless youth is fuelling class and racial divisions, according to youth workers and some politicians. And today’s problem could have a big impact on Europe’s future. The continent’s labour force is set to decline by 50 million people over the next 50 years, according to the World Bank.
“Young people are being marginalised with major economic consequences,” said Francois Robert, a social worker. “The problems people are talking about in Greece and Spain are right outside the European Commission's door in Brussels.”