We frequently refer to life as a journey. We follow a path or travel a road. While these metaphors have limits, they came to mind after I read a recent article by Robert Samuelson in the June 17, 2015 Washington Post.

I learned a new economic-demographic classification—NEET—“neither employed nor in education or training”. Samuelson described a recent OECD report that estimated a population of “…roughly 39 million NEETs in 33 of the world’s advanced industrial countries”. The full title of the report is “OECD Skills Outlook 2015—Youth, Skills and Employability”. The report runs 160 pages and contains much data. I have only read segments of it. But the essence of the report is contained in the executive summary from which the paragraph below is extracted.

In 2013, 39 million 16-29 year-olds across OECD countries were neither employed nor in education or training (NEET)—5 million more than before the economic crisis of 2008. And estimates for 2014 show little improvement. The numbers are particularly high in southern European countries that were hardest hit by the crisis. In Greece and Spain, for example, more than 25% of young adults were NEET in 2013. More worrying still: around half of all NEETs — some 20 million young people — are out of school and not looking for work. As such, they may have dropped off the radar of their country’s education, social, and labour market systems.

Samuelson noted from the report that, “In each of Britain, France and the United States, NEETs were 16 percent of the 15-to-29-year-old population in 2013…” This is a high percentage of that demographic that is basically non-productive. The OECD report terms it a “personal calamity” for those affected and “an unacceptable waste of human potential”. I have to agree. It is a tough problem though.

This brings me back to paths and roads. Paths are simple. They can be well-trodden or unique. Paths can be dynamic and flexible but essentially are limited to individual scale. On occasion a gifted individual forges a path that proves invaluable to humanity and serves as inspiration to all. But most of us if left completely to our own devices would end up wandering in circles.

Roads on the other hand imply an organized effort that includes such elements as design, construction and maintenance. Roads already go somewhere. They accommodate more diverse and expanded traffic. So if life is a road that implies an organized community effort where the work of many helps others move forward. The road of life should enable all youth to achieve a viable education, to build necessary life skills and to find stable employment for a productive life.

Easier said than done I’m sure. The financial crisis of 2008 caused a huge spike in youth unemployment that we have yet to recover from. My point is that this should be a national undertaking. It will take political will, some creativity and probably some experimentation. Where will all this come from? Of course, the problem might solve itself. Developed countries, with the exception of the US, are facing declining populations and fewer young people.