Young, unemployed and disillusioned: Turkey’s youth

With unemployment at its highest point in 15 years, Turkey’s young population is finding little reason to maintain hope for the future.

The percentage of those without a job rose to 14 percent in the three months to September, according to figures from the Turkish Statistical Institute (TÜİK) published on Nov. 15. 

The demographic with the largest increase in unemployment was the 15-24 age group, whose jobless rate rose to 27.4 percent. 

The number of young people without a job and also not in education stood at an astounding 30.1 percent, according to TÜİK. The number of unemployed university graduates registers at 15.2 percent and only some 28 million people of Turkey’s 80 million population are employed, according to TÜİK’s figures.

What does Turkey’s young population, staring into the abyss, think is the driving force behind this wasted potential?

For many people Ahval spoke to in city streets and coffee shops, the country’s immigration policy, a culture of nepotism and a lack of new factories are some of the main factors fuelling the country’s high unemployment rate. 

Metehan Algüç, who has been frustrated by the lack of opportunities to work in his line of training, believes unemployment is negatively affecting social relations. 

He thinks the phenomenon is leading to high levels of stress and was one of the factors that triggered a string of suicides last month.

The suicides and murder-suicides of several families sparked a debate about the country’s deteriorating economic conditions and the toll they are taking on people’s mental health. 

“If you get married, how do you provide for the needs of your household? I can’t get married at this point. Unemployment has to do with the political administration of this country. Turkey is not being led well,’’ Algüç said.

In a country where one out of every three people in the 15-to-24 age bracket in Turkey is unemployed, many are settling for minimum wage jobs, which they know will not provide a future.

Mehmet Emin has been waiting for the conscription notice to perform his mandatory military service. Until he receives it, he cannot get a job in his preferred line of work, as many employers look for the completion of military service as a prerequisite for hiring. He said the low wage he earns was not a problem since he lived with his family, but that this would change under different circumstances.

“If I were to live alone, it would be impossible for me to get by on 2,000 liras ($346, roughly Turkey’s minimum wage.) When we think about our expenditures, we try not to make any plans about the future,’’ Emin said.

He said he found the distribution of income in Turkey to be unjust.

“It even says in the Holy Qur’an that the rich will become richer and the poor will become poorer. This is the direction we are headed in,’’ he explained, adding that the government should create job opportunities for young people based on their skills. 

Şeyhmus Ekinci works long shifts at a hotel making the minimum wage. He too is concerned about his future and his chances of starting his own family.

“I don’t know how it will be down the line. How can I support my family if I get married? Turkey does not have good opportunities for its youth,’’ Ekinci said. For now, he is busy learning a new language, which he believes will open new doors for him.

Audiometry graduate Turan Çelik has been waiting for a job assignment for months. 

“I am a nurse who has been waiting for two months to be assigned a post. There are roughly 17,000 thousand like me, who have graduated from health sciences and waiting to get a job,’’ Çelik said.

He puts the blame on the system, which according to him is no longer using competence based hiring practices.

“Everyone is placing their own men in job vacancies. In terms of education, the country is at a low point. There is nothing other than pulling favours when hiring in workplaces,’’ he said.

Musa is unemployed and spends his time in coffee shops, known as kahvehanes. More about tea than coffee, kahvehanes have traditionally been gathering points for retired men looking to kill time by playing cards and backgammon.

Musa blames Turkey’s immigration policy for the soaring rate of unemployment.

“The government is taking no measures to prevent Syrians from working for 600 liras a month without any insurance. Back in the day, the police implemented harsh measures. Nowadays, it’s a free for all,’’ Musa said.  

Turkey is home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, who appear to have worn out their welcome since they began arriving in the country at the beginning of the civil war in 2011.

Discontent with the group has risen as Turkey’s economy stuttered in recent years.

A survey conducted in July by the Turkish polling company PIAR revealed that Syrians are ranked as the country’s second most important problem, following its ailing economy.

"This is a kind of unemployment called “Cyclical unemployment”. Deviation of the actual unemployment rate from the natural level. It most often occurs during a depression and economic decline. During a cyclical recovery of the economy, this type of unemployment is usually absent.", says a career expert from CraftResumes.

“The Syrians have arrived and they are willing to work for as low as 40 liras a day. Factories have been shut down, job opportunities have been destroyed. Of course, unemployment is on the rise,’’ said Hüseyin, who runs a cafe.

“I think the unemployment rate is closer to 40 percent,’’ Hüseyin said. “We can’t even look past tonight when we are planning our future’’. 

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Ahval.