What fault line runs from Tucson to Tunisia?

16th January, 2011

They are worlds apart – Tucson, Arizona and Tunisia, North Africa….

The people of Too-sahn, as it is apparently pronounced, have a per capita income of $16,322. Tunisia, while amongst the richest countries in Africa, has a GDP per capita almost half that of Tucson’s at $9,500.

But Tucson suffers poverty too. It has become a brutal place to live if you are poor, in bad health, suffer organ failure and need a transplant. Because, as Bloomberg reports: “the collapse of the real-estate bubble dealt a blow to the state’s tax collections, causing one-third of its revenue to disappear between 2007 and 2010”. Facing a shortfall of $2.2 billion over the next year and a half, Governor Jan Brewer, a Republican, “eliminated state funding of some transplants, becoming the only state to do so in the past two years.”

So there is poverty and suffering in both Tucson and Tunisia. But the economic reality – the faultline on which both economies lie –  rattles society in both Tucson and Tunisia. And it is this: historically unprecedented levels of youth unemployment.

Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged assassin of members of Tucson’s political elite, is, we are told, mentally unstable. But he is also one of the millions of young Americans without employment or the prospect of employment. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported last August that “2010 marks the first time in the history of the (youth unemployment data) series that less than half of all youth 16 to 24 years old were employed in that month.”  In other words more than 50% of America’s youth had no paid work at that time.

While current data on youth unemployment in Tunisia is not easily available, in 2007 the World Bank reported that  “the number of young unemployed Tunisian graduates had nearly doubled in 10 years: 336,000 in 2006-2007 compared to 121,800 in 1996-1997.”

It was this blog that brought you news of what was happening in Tunisia on 5th January this year, when most of the British media were still on holiday. As Christopher Alexander noted in his Foreign Policy blog, “what began with one young man’s desperate protest against unemployment in Sidi Bouzid, in Tunisia’s center-west, spread quickly to other regions and other issues.”

According to the latest data provided by the ILO in August, 2010, 81 million young people worldwide were unemployed at the end of 2009 — the highest number ever. This is 7.8 million more than the global number in 2007.

Thanks to the global financial crisis inflicted on the world by a small, irresponsible, but incredibly wealthy elite running the financial system, the youth unemployment rate increased from 11.9 percent in 2007 to 13.0 percent in 2009. The situation is not much better for young people that do find work. The ILO estimates that in 2008 152 million young people, or about 28 percent of all the young workers in the world, worked but lived in extreme poverty surviving on less than US$1.25 per person per day.

It adds that these trends will have “significant consequences for young people as upcoming cohorts of new entrants join the ranks of the already unemployed” and warns of the “risk of a crisis legacy of a ‘lost generation’ comprised of young people who have dropped out of the labour market, having lost all hope of being able to work for a decent living”.

That crisis has already manifest itself in Tucson and Tunisia.

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3 comments to What fault line runs from Tucson to Tunisia?

  • larry brownstein

    Ed Vulliamy published a piece in today’s Observer about his love affair with Tucson – http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jan/16/tucson-city-shootings-us-cities. His account makes no mention of the city’s economic problems, thereby giving the impression that Tucson is somehow unique in the economically unequal US. (Jon Snow didn’t pronounce it correctly, rendering it as Too-son.)

  • Dear Anne,

    Something is wrong with the World Bank quotation on young unemployed Tunisian graduates: if the figures are correct, then the number has nearly trebled, not doubled, in the past ten years.

    Or should that first figure be ‘236,000’, so that the number has indeed nearly doubled?

  • Ann

    Mr/Ms Bartel…you are right. I took the WB at their word…graduate unemployment in Tunisia has nearly trebled. Thanks. Ann

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