It wasn’t supposed to be like this

by Kirsty Tobin

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

As unemployment levels reach levels not seen since the mid-90s, dole queues have escalated almost beyond belief

We were sold the dream of graduating into a thriving economy.  We were sold the dream of fine houses, and cars, and comfort.  We were sold a social life and an ideal.  We were sold the equivalent of the picket fence, the smiling children (one of each), and the labrador retriever sitting on the lawn.  We were sold the idea that our degrees would be worth something.  We were sold the belief that we would be set up for life.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

When the early warning signs of this global recession started rearing their ugly heads nearly three years ago, our futures crumbled in front of our very eyes.  All of a sudden this perfect vision we’d been sold, the perfection we were assured was in all of our futures, was out of our grasp, replaced only with the uncertainty and fear that plagued our parents during the 1980s.  Overnight, thousands of college graduates, and prospective graduates, went from being much sought after candidates for employment to being merely possessors of what can only be described as essentially worthless pieces of paper.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Three years ago we were faced with endless possibilities.  The world was our oyster.  We had everywhere to go and nothing holding us back.  But that was then.  That was when the live register wasn’t overflowing.  That was when there were only 40,600 under-25s signing on every month.  That was before the recession, before the National Assets Management Agency (NAMA), before it all went pear-shaped.  Now there is twice that number signing on.  According to the Irish Central Statistics Office’s seasonally adjusted figures, 88,663 people under 25 signed on last month.  And, according to the Irish Labour Youth’s proposals on tackling youth unemployment from early this year, “23% of those aged 20-24 are in neither full-time education nor employment”.  That’s an overwhelming number of people, graduates for the most part, who are relying solely on Social Welfare Payments for subsistence.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Thirty years ago, faced with what we are facing today, our parents’ generation graduated and then left Ireland in droves – the United Kingdom and America were lands of hope and opportunity that promised them job security and a chance at a life.  At least they had options.  This generation isn’t so lucky.  Although some countries in mainland Europe and further afield are showing shaky signs of economic recovery, there is still a long way to go before any of these countries are out of the woods.  And even further to go before they are capable of supporting foreign job seekers.  So we have become largely confined to those economically deficient Emerald shores.  We’re doomed to signing on. Despite our best efforts, despite our university educations, we are doomed to being stuck in menial jobs – a fate from which we were supposed to be protected.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

While employment rates among graduates in the UK have risen slightly on figures from last year, this can’t last.  There are already much greater unemployment rates than there were two years ago, and with recent cuts to public sector jobs, as well as a rise in the retirement age, finding jobs post-graduation is about to get a whole lot harder.  UK students are facing the very same problems that Irish students are. They’re about to graduate under a government that cares so little about them that it’s proposing 40% cuts to university teaching budgets.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

Since the recession hit in full force, there has been minimal attention paid to the plight of the disillusioned student masses, and the majority of this was relating to the reintroduction of third-level fees to Irish universities.  Other than this, the focus has been on job losses and NAMA, civil-service pay-cuts and ministerial over-spending.  There has been, by and large, little notice taken of the thousands of students who are graduating every year into a market that can’t hold them, with nowhere else to go even if they could afford to get there.  Historically, students have been instrumental in effecting change.  It’s time we followed that example.

It wasn’t supposed to be like this.

We have been whispering about our futures.  Talking about how the recession affects the direction of our lives.  Discussing the uncertainty of the coming days and months in hushed tones.  It’s time for the tones to become less hushed.  It’s time that people realised that there is more to this recession than job losses and pay-cuts; that a younger generation is suffering, neglected and forgotten.  It’s time that we students made our voices heard.  Let the cry ring forth:

“It wasn’t supposed to be like this!”

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