Amid crisis, Portuguese protest poor prospects for the young

Thousands crowd Lisbon’s main avenue on Saturday, called onto the streets by a social media campaign to vent their frustration at grim career opportunities for many amid an economic crisis.

Associated Press

Thousands crowd Lisbon’s main avenue on Saturday, called onto the streets by a social media campaign to vent their frustration at grim career opportunities for many amid an economic crisis.

LISBON, Portugal — Portugal's disgruntled Facebook generation marched in a dozen cities Saturday to vent frustration at grim career prospects amid an acute economic crisis that shows no sign of abating.

Some 30,000 people, mostly in their 20s and 30s, crammed into Lisbon's main downtown avenue, called onto the streets by a social media campaign that harnessed a broad sense of disaffection. Local media reported thousands more attended simultaneous protests in 10 other cities nationwide.

A banner at the front of the Lisbon march said, "Our country is in dire straits." Another said, "We are the future."

The Lisbon march was festive and raucous, featuring brass bands, drum combos and small children with balloons. Middle-aged parents also turned out.

Portugal, western Europe's poorest country, is producing the best-qualified generation in its history, thanks to big investments in education.

But after a decade of feeble economic growth and a huge debt burden that has forced the government to enact crippling austerity measures, Portugal's economy can't deliver the opportunities that trained young people are seeking.

The jobless rate stands at a record 11.2 percent, and half of the unemployed are younger than 35. In the third quarter of last year, 68,500 college graduates were idle — a 6.5 percent increase from the same quarter the previous year, according to the National Statistics Institute.

Like Greece and Ireland, other debt-heavy European countries, analysts say Portugal is on the verge of needing an international bailout that would prevent its financial collapse but doom it to more years of recession.

"People's well-being has taken second place to financial matters," said Luis Santos, 28, who has been out of work since graduating from Lisbon University three years ago. Most of his old college friends also are finding it hard to get on the career ladder. "It's hard to come across anyone who's happy about their prospects," he said.

Portugal's young generation isn't just angry at unemployment but at "underemployment" — low paid, dead-end jobs beneath their levels of qualification — which leaves them stuck at home with their parents into their 30s.

Goncalo Montenegro, 45, was at the Lisbon march with his 14-year-old son. He works as a salesman but said he is worried about his son's future. "We're passing on this mess and our debt to the next generation," he said.

Amid crisis, Portuguese protest poor prospects for the young 03/12/11 [Last modified: Saturday, March 12, 2011 8:58pm]

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