Europe's Youth: Between Hope and Despair

In this year’s edition of the “Caritas Cares!” series, we undertake a stocktaking of the conditions of young people in Europe, as Caritas organisations perceive them in our social services, programmes and grassroots projects. Caritas member organisations report about their practices in the countries, providing evidence of the needs and testimonies of the vulnerable populations they are serving and they come forward when rights are being violated or are becoming more difficult to realise. It is our aim, therefore, to draw policy makers nearer to the impacts of their social policies as they impact on the ground, affecting the lives of people.

Young women and men, aged 16 to 29, face major challenges in their life course when they transition from childhood to adulthood. This includes their identity formation, moving out from their parents’ home, transitioning from school to work, including choosing a professional career, and establishing a family of one’s own. All these challenges have become even more difficult in the last decade due to the protracted economic crisis and the changes in labour markets that have hit youth the hardest, e.g. in terms of youth unemployment, wages, working conditions and access to social protection.

Our findings indicate that the current situation of youth in Europe has wider and longer-term consequences for our societies, labour markets and social protection systems. We identified a phenomenon of what we would call SINKies - Single Income, No Kids: Sinkies are young couples both working but who, wages combined, still earn only the equivalent of one single “decent” income, because of the bad wage levels and precarious working conditions. Being a working poor also prevents people from having kids. As opposed to DINKIES, a term coined in the 1980s to describe the phenomenon of couples earning a double income choosing not to have kids because they wanted to enjoy life, Sinkies are young couples who might wish to have children but who simply can’t afford it. And the term also refers to the social consequences of having a first generation in decades that is worse off than their parents, with consequences for social cohesion, social models as well as social protection systems – we run the risk of a sinking society if no action is taken now.

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