eyes on the U.S.

After Europe, The US Now Facing Plague Of Youth Unemployment

Even Ivy League graduates have to settle for serial internships.

Ivy League students are increasingly impoverished
Ivy League students are increasingly impoverished
Sylvain Cypel

NEW YORK – Margot’s parents were wealthy enough to pay for her four years at Columbia University.

The young woman, who graduated in May 2011 with a bachelor's degree in economics and mathematics went through a grueling job search, which left her disillusioned. She was hoping for job in business development, the perfect job for young graduates, a mix of business and innovation.

She knocked on the doors of banks and start-ups, where all she found were internships that paid around $600 a month. For a year and a half, she lived mostly on babysitting jobs and private tutoring to high school students.

Graduating from Columbia, an Ivy League school – one of the best American universities – proved to be handicap in her job search. “Employers thought I would cost too much, or I wouldn’t agree to stay on a low salary for very long.”

Also, she says: “the jobs offered were at lower salaries than they used to be and the other candidates were unemployed people with three to five years professional experience. With nothing else than my degree, I didn’t stand a chance.”

Although this situation is not unusual for a French graduate, it is a new phenomenon in the U.S., where youth unemployment was virtually unknown before the crisis.

Tired of alternating unemployment and menial jobs, Margot threw in the towel and went to work for her mom, a real-estate agent. Her mom says: “Paying $200,000 so that your child, a university graduate can’t find a job, or a job that pays $30,000 a year, economically, it does not make sense.”

This is a new trend in the U.S. – youth unemployment, particularly among college graduates. These phenomena – job insecurity, low salaries for overqualified jobs – are a growing concern. In a large law firm in Atlanta, for instance, the young woman delivering the mail has a law degree and the receptionist has a degree in management, wrote recently the New York Times, in an article entitled entitled “It Takes a B.A. to Find a Job as a File Clerk”.

In Atlanta, 39% of job postings for secretaries and administrative assistant require a bachelor's degree. The irony is that a university education is becoming more and more expensive. Libertarian monthly magazine Reason whose motto is: “Free minds and free markets,” published in their April edition an article that said that over the last 35 years, university tuitions have increased twice as much as healthcare, and seven times as much as home prices.

A system that is failing its youth

Having been able to study without a loan, Margot feels very lucky. Her situation is not as bad as it is for those who have student loans to pay back – like one of her friends, a young graduate who is unemployed, and who recently had to come and stay with her. Studies show that tuitions are soaring: up more than 20% in 25 out of 50 states in five years, more than 40% on average in community colleges. Meanwhile scholarship levels have fallen sharply – down by more than 20% in 30 states. Rising tuitions and lower aids translates to an explosion of student debts in the U.S. One out of five households are in debt because of education costs.

For young graduates or the families who co-sign their loans, student debt has become an unbearable cross to bear. Before, when we left college, we were almost certain to find a job and be able to pay back our loan. Today, not only do students need bigger loans, but there is a real possibility that they won’t find a job to make their payments, and will have to declare bankruptcy. More and more young people are reluctant to enroll in college, by fear of ending up with crippling debts. The American university system is going through a systematic crisis.

Reason magazine’s April issue had an article with the subtitle: “Why are we screwing up the world’s best higher education system?” The subtext is that U.S. colleges are failing their students. The 30 or 40 prestigious U.S. universities (costing around $55,000 or $60,000 a year), continue to produce Nobel Prizes, but can no longer hide the fact that students are increasingly – and massively – impoverished.

The system is declining and universities are not able to produce tomorrow’s elite locally. So much so that they will have to start importing their talent from abroad. The U.S. should make education a matter of national urgency if they want to avoid losing their number one ranking in technology. The problem is well known in the university world, and does not only affect the high tech sector.

America has always imported talent. But today, in many research labs, foreign researchers or those of foreign origin represent 90% of the staff. Meanwhile, there are more and more parents in America who are worried about the economical well-being of their children – something that the Old Continent is only too familiar with.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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