When youth build nations

Youth are well known for breaking new ground, dreaming big, and rewriting the rules. They fight in wars, push for revolutions, and are often the first to call for reforms and change to a system of governance. Their energy and enthusiasm is often described as a source to be tapped into. And it pretty much goes without saying that a nation’s wealth is measured in part by the promise of a nation’s youth. Unfortunately, contrary to these well documented tendencies, they are not always well represented in the policies and actions of a country – and are sometimes even systematically excluded.

When youth are kept out of the political or economic world they feel isolated and disillusioned – take it from me, I graduated a year ago and still haven’t found a full time job. I am part of the youth of the United States of America, and we are a driving force for the economy, the government, and popular culture. Economists write that because of the lack of opportunity during the formative years of my career, even long after the recession has ended I will still earn less than my peers a few years younger than me. Furthermore, my attitude about work, wages, and higher education will be forever changed – something I’m likely to pass onto my children.

If youth are the future, the future you get will be directly dependent on what you do to educate and prepare the youth of your nation. To put it succinctly:

The foundation of every state is the education of its youth. – Diogenes Laertius

This concept is exponentially applicable in countries with a higher than average youth population, or ‘youth bulge.’ As Clark Whelton describes:

A youth bulge happens when thirty to forty percent of a nation’s males are between the ages of fifteen and twenty-nine. Even if these young men are well nourished and have good housing and education, their numbers grow much faster than the economy can provide them with career opportunities. Many don’t have jobs, and don’t have places in society. When so many young men compete for the few places available, they become frustrated, angry, and violent.

In Iraq, the percentage of youth (both male and female) under the age of 29 is closer to 70% of the total population. Many Iraqi youth are finding themselves shut out of employment opportunities. They are afraid that the only way to ‘break in” to the economic and political world is to join a political party and wait for that party’s patronage system to pay off. What a frustrating way to try to make your place in the world! Where would you be if you had to wait for your state to elect a Democratic or Republican governor or congressperson before you could get a job?

When do youth build nations? All the time and everywhere. This 4th of July, as you take time to consider our country, the revolutionaries that won us our independence, and what it means to be an American, pause for a second and think about the challenges of youth everywhere. What kind of future do you want for yourself and your country? Is our generation ready to get us there?


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