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Saturday 24 June 2017

'Mancession' is ravaging our brightest and best

Young men are bearing the brunt of the jobs shortage, and it's leading to tragic consequences, writes Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

Maeve Sheehan

MEET Roy Scannell, age 25: an educated college graduate, smart, ambitious and out of work for more than a year-and-a-half. It was not the future he had in mind when he graduated from college with impeccable credentials.

He had a degree in government and public policy from University College, Cork, and left Dublin City University with a master's degree in international relations in September 2008. He is so keen for a job that he has started working, without pay, for the state agency Enterprise Ireland through a Fas graduate scheme.

In the chronicle of Ireland's journey from boom to gloom, there are many tales of calamity and hardship. But Roy's story reflects one of the most striking features of the downturn; that of eager young men ready and waiting to work in a world of ever-diminishing opportunity.

The view that men are bearing the brunt of the recession more than women isn't exclusive to Ireland. The Americans Christened the phenomenon "mancession". The fact that these unemployed men are so young seems to be a particularly Irish problem, however. The National Youth Council of Ireland says we have the second highest rate of youth unemployment in Western Europe. Most of those are young men. The National Quarterly Household Survey for July to September last year told us that this is a rising trend: it said 31 per cent of young men aged 20 to 24 were unemployed, almost twice the figure for the same period last year. Compare that to 16.5 per cent of unemployed young women in the same age group or 18.6 per cent of men aged between the ages of 25 to 34.

As for the reasons, one obvious factor is that more young men in that age group than women work -- 75 per cent of men as opposed to 70 per cent of women aged between 20 and 24 participated in the labour force, according to the household survey. Another is the huge numbers of young men who worked in construction.

This was not how it was supposed to be. During the boom years, they were characterised as the generation who had it all; their pick of jobs, money to spend and unprecedented access to loans and credit dangled by financial institutions in the throes of a lending spree. As recently as 2008, a survey of graduates revealed a formidable confidence in their glittering futures. Boxes to tick before the age of 30 included earning €100,000, owning a home and buy-to-let investments and regular foreign holidays. Then they expected to earn €27,500 a year in their first job. Now they are hard pressed to find one.

Roy Scannell recalled: "When I was studying, I did internships in the Scottish parliament. I had ideas of going into some sort of public service position, an international organisation like the UN or the EU," he said. His ambitions were swiftly knocked back. Job applications were fruitless, even for posts that he was vastly over-qualified for. "I applied for mostly office based work . . . data entry, stuff that I wouldn't find interesting. I have applied for a lot of those jobs but to no avail," he said. "I was a barman for years. I applied for several bar jobs but even they had ridiculous experience requirements, like five years to pour a pint, for instance."

He considered emigration a last resort. He didn't have the resources to take off to countries such as Australia or America where visa applications require proof of bank funds. He also applied for several jobs in European countries but to no avail.

"Around January of last year, I became seriously disheartened. I began to question my whole future," he said. "I felt that I was heading into a brick wall. I didn't have the resources to emigrate. So I decided to try to keep my CV ticking over for six months."

That meant effectively working for nothing, taking whatever experience he could get. The only "work" he could get was unpaid. Through a chance encounter, he got a job assisting Paschal Donohue, the Fine Gael candidate for the Dublin Central by-election last year. There followed another lengthy period of unemployment until he landed a place on the Fas graduate scheme last year.

Even though the work is voluntary and he doesn't get a penny, he describes the post as a lifesaver. "It's really disheartening. I lost a lot of confidence at that time," he said. "Before I found this scheme, I was definitely suffering mentally. I found myself sleeping quite late, becoming a bit lethargic. I find myself buzzing with activity now, even though I am not being paid, but I find my work interesting."

Like many other young men in his position, Roy won't give up hope, although he cannot see his prospects improving in the immediate future. All he can do is keep looking for work and hope his volunteering at Enterprise Ireland will eventually lead to something.

Non-graduates too expected to leave school and walk in to a job in the booming construction sector or the hospitality or retail industry. Stephen Quinn, 19, from Swords in north Dublin, left school in 2008 hoping to work in SR Technics, the aircraft maintenance firm. Then last year the company announced a swathe of redundancies. Stephen got a couple months work in Argos over Christmas and then nothing: "You just sleep all day, you've nothing to get up for, you're just bored all the time, just staying in all day. You just get fed up," he said.

After six months of this lifestyle, he relieved the tedium by helping out at the local youth centre in Swords. He is still looking for a job, but meanwhile has signed up for a night course in Louth VEC. As with Roy, volunteering has given Stephen a focus that keeps him in touch with the working world.

Experts warn that the consequences of long-term unemployment can be devastating. Studies have shown that the longer one is unemployed, the harder it is to get out of it. Research also suggests that unemployment is a significant factor in young male suicide. Men define themselves in terms of work, according to a paper in the Journal of Irish Psychology. For those men, failure at work carries serious emotional consequences.

Opposition TDs such as Paschal Donohue and Willie Penrose, the Labour TD, have already flagged unemployment among young men in Ireland as a kind of social time-bomb. Fas has also addressed the problem. Brian McDonald, economist with the state training agency, said it is organising more placements for apprentices, the majority of whom are young men. In another Fas scheme, the ESB has also promised to place 400 electrical apprentices.

Rory Geraghty, chairman of Labour Youth, believes the Government hasn't done enough. Political affiliations aside, he speaks with some authority. He is a 21-year-old unemployed graduate who lives at home with his parents in Rathfarnham, Dublin.

He has become entirely dependent on his parents for money for the first time since his school days. He worked through his years at University College, Dublin, where he studied history; he worked in a clothes shop for a year and later worked for the Courts Service. That job was knocked on the head last year with the public service staff cutbacks.

He hasn't had a job since March last year when he got a day-and-a- half's work on the Students' Union elections. He finished his final exams in December and met his social welfare officer for the first time last week. Since the Budget he is no longer be entitled to the jobseeker's allowance but will be entitled to means-tested job seeker's assistance.

"Since I left school, apart from the odd contribution to university materials, I have never had to ask my parents for money. But now I have no other choice. I have absolutely no money at all, even to get a bus into town, unless I ask my parents," he said.

Ironically, Rory was involved in putting out a paper on young male unemployment and the associated risks with Labour Youth late last year, while he was still a student. Now he is experiencing the grim reality of unemployment.

"As everyone knows, we have a very high suicide rate amongst young Irish males. With the growing rates of young men unemployed, in particular under the age of 25, I would hope that the statistics would come down.

"But the fact that long-term depression comes with long-term unemployment can only indicate that it can only be a growing problem. The Government has refused to address it," said Rory.

Sunday Independent

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