The international landscape is in unprecedented flux, challenging assumptions of social, political and economic progress for youth everywhere.
Globalization, technological advances, demographic pressures from global migration, sectarian and ideological conflicts, and economic disparities have all affected the cohesiveness of societies.
Shifting unemployment patterns and doubts about the sustainability of social security systems and the environment have led many to feel that their prospects and welfare are uncertain.
Youth unemployment ranges from as low as 3.7 per cent in Japan to as high as 54.9 per cent in Spain. Greece sits at 39.9 per cent. Canada and the United States report youth unemployment rates of 11.1 and 8.6 per cent respectively.
Poverty and exclusion, crime and inadequate access to technology and public services make youth in marginalized parts of major cities feel even less secure.
The rate of global growth appears to have peaked: the latest International Monetary Fund (IMF) forecasts a gradual slowdown. The factors include a growing global debt burden. Tightening financial conditions have worsened concerns in countries with historic debt issues.
The Global Risks Perception Survey ranks inequality as the fourth most serious threat to global security. The report notes that while global inequality has eased, within-country inequality continues to increase. This is attributed largely to widening gaps between public and private capital ownership over the past 40 years.
The survey notes that large transfers of public-to-private wealth occurred in nearly all countries, and while national wealth substantially increased, public wealth is now negative or close to zero in rich countries.
The Gini index measures the income distribution of a population calculated periodically by region, and ranks countries by the disparity of income levels across their population. The index indicates there’s a widening disparity between the haves and have-nots.
Canada’s Gini index, last calculated by the World Bank for 2013, was 34.00. The United States’ index in 2013 was 41.00. Canada ranked a full seven points better than the United States. But Canada’s rank is similar to those of Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Tajikistan and Uganda.
These shifts have important and lasting impacts on perceptions of future prospects.
Perceptions of fairness impact legitimacy and trust. Increasing personal household debt, higher real-estate costs and the general cost of living in metropolitan areas have changed family structures and roles over the past several decades. Single-income families are rare today, since most families need multiple sources of income to make ends meet.
On the other end of the scale, chief executive officers in America’s largest firms make an average of $15.6 million in compensation, 271 times the annual average pay of the typical worker. The differential in 1965 was 20-to-1; in 1989, it was 59-to-1.
A Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report examined the 100 highest-paid CEOs at TSX-listed companies for 2016. The average annual CEO compensation was a record $10.4 million – more than 200 times the average worker’s salary of $49,738. The average CEO compensation rose eight per cent between 2015 and 2016, while the average worker’s salary rose by just 0.5 per cent.
Free markets should compensate based on demand, while gauging ability, value and expertise. But free-market structures must be sustainable and accountable. The General Motors worker whose job security is threatened and whose wage barely keeps up with the cost of living – while corporate profits soar – can’t be faulted for challenging the system and growing pessimistic.
Young graduates with years of higher education – and student loans – can’t find jobs that pay enough to live within reasonable travelling distance of their employment. Nor can they support a family without resorting to secondary employment. They too can’t be faulted for becoming cynical.
A 2016 Ipsos Global Trends survey asked whether youth believed their life would be better or worse than their parents’ lives. Only five per cent of survey respondents in China expect to live a worse life than their parents, compared with 31 per cent in the U.S., almost 58 per cent in France and 30 per cent in Canada.
Cynicism and class divisions lead to cultural insecurity, reducing tolerance and compassion. And failure to respond effectively to changing expectations is likely to push even more citizens toward polarizing world views, ideological and economic sectarianism, and religious ideologies. And that will lead increasingly to politics based on intolerance and exclusion.
Canada isn’t exempt from such politics. Quebec’s Bill 62 is a clear example.
Polarization along political lines in the U.S. and Britain, protests against elected officials in France, the rise of extreme right-wing politics across Europe, and conflicts across the Middle East indicate increasing levels of disengagement and anger, straining democratic institutions.
The 2019 Global Risks Report notes that risks are intensifying but the collective will to tackle them appears to be lacking. Instead, divisions are hardening.
The idea of taking back control – whether domestically from political rivals or externally from large organizations – resonates across many countries and many issues. We’re drifting deeper into problems from which we’ll struggle to extricate ourselves.
Policies that don’t effectively respond to the concerns of youth will inevitably lead to even greater marginalization.
We need policies that enhance collective prosperity, and offer increased access to opportunities and services for young people.
We need to regain the faith, trust, hope and confidence of our young people in the principles that define a just society.
Young voters hear political candidates make promises in order to get elected and then carry on as usual.
And too many leaders have become so unashamedly divisive that they ignore those who didn’t support them, eroding the very foundation of democratic principles.
Such corrosive conditions threaten pluralism, which has been integral to the progress of the 19th and 20th centuries. Instead, pluralism is increasingly perceived as a threat to traditional identities. Immigrants are seen as responsible for taking jobs, eroding social values and committing crimes, despite evidence to the contrary.
It’s time for real change!
Anil Anand served as a police officer with a Canadian service for 29 years in a variety of roles, including being assigned to Interpol. He has a master of law degree, as well as an MBA, and has taught criminology and community policing courses. His book Mending Broken Fences Policing, looks at the role of contemporary policing in modern society.