The Spectre of Unemployment

Among the many stories that fill the British newspapers are countless stories about the spectre of unemployment. This is quite high, at 8.4%, and worse among the young. Apparently for the 16-24 age group the unemployment rate here is 22.5%. That means that nearly a quarter of this age cohort is looking for work. It doesn’t mean that over 75% are working – after all, many have simply given up and so no longer even count as statistics.

At the end of the Llŷn Peninsular where my mother lives there is only one gas (petrol) station. Gas was always more expensive there but, as my mother used to remind me, “if you stop buying his and he leaves, then you’ve got a long drive to find the next one”. Whenever I have been there in the past, I have been struck by the fact that there were usually one or two and sometimes three people in the small shop-cum-office. One or the other would always come out and operate the pump. We would exchange a few words – “fill ‘er up, please” and “nice day” (or more usually, “still raining”) – and then I would pay him, and wait while he went inside and then brought back my change.

This time there was only one person in the office. People were serving themselves in the forecourt. I did the same, and went inside to pay. It was a nice day, we agreed. As we left the Llŷn I saw the next gas station – and the price there was 1p a litre higher than I had paid!

On our way over from Wales to Derbyshire we stopped in a motorway service station for lunch. There were shelves and shelves of sandwiches and cakes, all individually wrapped. We selected our items, and then joined the queue to pay at the single register. The lady absent-mindedly scanned our purchase, took the cash, and our change was dispensed from a machine.

Later in the journey we stopped in a supermarket, to get supplies for the week. There were no queues at the two cash registers where a person was sitting. There were queues at the six self-service stations, where people scanned their own purchases and placed them in their own carrier bags. The cashier asked me if I wanted any bags, at 5p each, and of course we did. These were given to us and we packed our groceries ourselves.

It seems to me that there is a serious disconnect here. If young people are not able to get entry level jobs, serving gas or serving customers, then why are we surprised to find that the youth unemployment rate has increased? In our quest for efficiency, and for savings to our personal expenses, are we breaking our social contract? Perhaps we need to re-evaluate the ways in which our society is structured. If we are to accept that a quarter of our youth are not going to get jobs, then how can we make sure that they are socially engaged?

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