The outrage of the young has erupted, sometimes violently, on the streets of Greece and Italy in recent weeks, as students and more radical anarchists protest not only specific austerity measures in flattened economies but a rising reality in Southern Europe: People like Ms. Esposito feel increasingly shut out of their own futures. Experts warn of volatility in state finances and the broader society as the most highly educated generation in the history of the Mediterranean hits one of its worst job markets.
Politicians are slowly beginning to take notice. Italy’s president, Giorgio Napolitano, devoted his year-end message on Friday to “the pervasive malaise among young people,” weeks after protests against budget cuts to the university system brought the issue to the fore.
Giuliano Amato, an economist and former Italian prime minister, was even more blunt. “By now, only a few people refuse to understand that youth protests aren’t a protest against the university reform, but against a general situation in which the older generations have eaten the future of the younger ones,” he recently told Corriere della Sera, Italy’s largest newspaper.
“This is the best-educated generation in Spanish history, and they are entering a job market in which they are underutilized,” said Ignacio Fernández Toxo, the leader of the Comisiones Obreras, one of Spain’s two largest labor unions. “It is a tragedy for the country.”
**Yet many young people in Southern Europe see labor union leaders like Mr. Fernández, and the left-wing parties with which they have been historically close, as part of the problem. They are seen as exacerbating a two-tier labor market by protecting a caste of tenured older workers rather than helping younger workers enter the market.
For Dr. Kotlikoff, the solution is simple: “We have to change the labor laws. Not gradually, but quickly.”
Yet in Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain, any change in national contracts involves complex negotiations among governments, labor unions and businesses — a delicate dance in which each faction fights furiously for its interests.
Because older workers tend to be voters, labor reform remains a third rail to most politicians. Asked at a news conference last year about changing Italy’s de facto two-tier system, Italy’s center-right finance minister, Giulio Tremonti, said simply, “You can’t make violent changes to the system.”
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