Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1412, (4 - 10 October 2018)
Tuesday,23 April, 2019
Issue 1412, (4 - 10 October 2018)

Ahram Weekly

Precariat youth and security

Temporary, contractual employment is increasingly seen in Europe as a potential source of social instability. Arab countries should take note and act to bolster real employment, writes Eman Ragab


Once again, some European cities are debating the question of youth as a potential threat to security. This time, however, it is not because the youth in question are susceptible to radical and extremist ideas, or because they are unemployed and a financial burden on the state. In this case, they are employed, but in jobs that are not permanent and, therefore, offer no job security. This class of youth is called the precariat.

The circumstances of precariat youth have become a subject of increasing concern among European officials involved in the design of security policies and the social dimension of these policies in particular. Such is the degree to which the ranks of this class have swelled that it has been added to the list of security threats that loom over European societies against a backdrop of economic instability.

Although the youth population in Europe is relatively small compared to other continents, accounting for only six per cent of the world’s youth according to the Global Youth Development Index and Report, they are coming under increasing focus of policymakers because from their ranks will be drawn the leaders of Europe in the future. According to EU figures for 2016, youth aged 15 to 29 account for a third of the population in EU countries, which is to say they number around 176 million.

Guy Standing, the economist who warned of the dangers of the swelling ranks of the precariat, said that one of the salient characteristics of this class is that their educational level is higher than required by the jobs in which they are employed. Because, technically speaking, they are employed, they are calculated among the labour force rather than among the unemployed. But, in addition to the lack of job security, they have no access to the advantages of the permanently employed, such as health insurance or social insurance.

The class includes young people employed on limited-term contracts. An example is drivers for Uber or other companies that utilise modern technologies to furnish services to consumers via a third party who is temporarily employed to provide the stated service on behalf of the company.

According to most studies on the precariat class in Europe, while its members generally rank among the middle class they are the most vulnerable to the hardships of masked poverty. The cash-based incomes they earn are insufficient to meet their needs and their employers do not register them in the government’s social security network. Also, according to the studies, the more educated among them, in particular, are inclined to support populist political movements which could overturn the concept of the middle class as a stay of political stability.

Because of the various dimensions to the precariat question, European countries are now concerned not just with lowering unemployment rates among youth but also with averting policies that might open impermanent jobs to the unemployed, as this would only further augment the precariat and possibly generate conditions that could jeopardise those countries’ social, economic and political stability. This is all the more the case when one considers that the growth of the precariat is another manifestation of the inequitable distribution of the fruits of economic growth.

Many Arab countries, which have high rates of youth unemployment, should apply this sort of strategic thinking. While these countries have accorded high priority to reducing these unemployment rates, they have devoted no attention to the need to create high quality job opportunities with true guarantees for job security.

The writer is an expert in security policies in the Middle East, and a senior researcher at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies.

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