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Our greatest social problem: there are no jobs left for the dim

By Daniel Knowles Politics November 17th, 2011

 Amid all the howling and gnashing of teeth about record youth unemployment yesterday, one point seemed to be universally missed: youth unemployment is not new.

[These are only going to get longer]

It has been climbing every single year since 2001. There are full statistics here; in 1990, 10.4 per cent of those under 25 were unemployed. Last year, it was 19.6 per cent. I’m not sure that the headline figure released yesterday is directly comparable to the eurostat number, but this year, it is 21.6 per cent. Since 2007, things have got much worse, of course, as they have in all countries. But in the UK this has been an acceleration of a trend, not a new one entirely.

Moreover, it doesn’t do us much good to consider “youth” unemployment as a single phenomenon. As the OECD reported in their study of youth employment in Britain in 2008:

Highly qualified young people fare better on the labour market in Britain than do their counterparts in many other OECD countries. But low-skilled 16 to 24 year olds in the United Kingdom perform below the OECD average, the OECD report makes clear. In 2005, the ratio of low skilled to high skilled youth unemployment rates stood at almost five to one, the second highest in the OECD.

Or, translated out of OECD-speak, the brightest here do better than in other countries, but those who do less well at school do worse. That’s hardly surprising. In this country, we have some truly world-beating universities and schools: Oxford, Cambridge and the various colleges of the University of London consistently score top in world rankings. For a graduate of these universities, there will always be work available somewhere, whether it is in a bank (still going), or in Japan teaching English. But at the same time, we also have a school system which self-evidently fails many students. As the British Chambers of Commerce puts it, many of our school leavers (and even many of our university graduates) are “fairly useless”; it is hardly surprising that they fail to get jobs.

The standard solution proposed is to try to increase skills. The Government has been pushing its plan to increase the number of apprenticeships, which are also intended to offer remedial training for children who can’t read and write. More worryingly, job centres force young workers to spend weeks working for no pay supermarkets in the hope that they will learn the skills of shelf-stacking, or cleaning up. On the Right, MPs like Dominic Raab call for the suspension of the minimum wage for young workers: the logic is that at £6 an hour, the young are priced out of jobs. The important thing is to get them onto the “job ladder”, from where it is presumed that they can rise.

I wonder. In today’s Guardian, Aditya Chakrabortty points out that in 1979, manufacturing employed 6.8m people in Britain. Today, we produce almost as much stuff, and yet the sector employs just 2.5m people. Robots and Chinese people have taken over the sorts of jobs that 16 year olds could get without any qualifications straight out of school and work in for a lifetime. The only jobs left for the under-educated, or often just the less academic, are in service industries: serving coffee, cleaning toilets, stacking shelves. These jobs are not the first rung on the ladder. There is no ladder; no one hopes to work in Pret a Manger for life.

As Chakrabortty notes, Gordon Brown and Tony Blair “chased the fantasy of the knowledge economy”. They believed that if they invested enough money in education, we could become a nation entirely of software engineers, 3d designers and Goldman Sachs bankers. Unfortunately, it’s rubbish. Like it or not, we will always have people whose natural abilities are simply not that valuable in the modern economy. They cannot hope to compete with competition from places like China and India, or even from the Eastern European graduates who come for six months to raise cash to send home.

This is the greatest question for our society: what place do we have for those who simply don’t fit into the modern economy? Ever worse pay and ever longer benefit rolls cannot be a long term solution. Even if we have the resources, relying on an ever shrinking proportion of the population for the taxes which clothe, house and feed the rest is not politically sustainable. At its crudest, how do we create good jobs for the stupid?

Source:- No Jobs for the Dim

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