Exploring Youth and Civic Participation Explanations of long-term trends in conventional political involvement amongst young people usually refer to underlying changes in the socio-economic and cultural contexts in which young people negotiate the transition to adulthood, and/or to changes in the political context of young people’s participatory decisions. This chapter begins by examining young people’s political citizenship in the light of social and economic changes affecting the circumstances of young people’s lives. These social and economic transformations are also reflected discursively in notions of postmodernisation and individualisation, prompting some authors to identify fundamental generational changes in the political styles of Western publics. The chapter goes on to outline some of the central claims of these arguments and their implications for young people’s political consciousness and practice. In contrast, resource-based approaches emphasise the importance of people’s resource situation and the perceived ‘payoffs’ of political engagement in shaping participatory decisions. Some of the key implications of changes in the resource context and political environment for young people’s ‘capacity to act’ as political participants are explored here. Youth Transitions and Social Change Changing Metaphors of Transition Changes within European societies have led to a re-conceptualisation of youth transitions in recent decades. Although there exists no universally agreed definition of ‘youth’, in sociological terms youth is generally taken to denote a period of transition between the dependence of childhood and the (relative) independence of adulthood. Rather than imposing a fixed and essentially arbitrary chronology upon the concept, youth is thus defined relative to the social roles, expectations and norms of contemporary society. In these terms it is clear that youth transitions have become both more extended and more uncertain in recent years as a result of accelerating socio-economic change, both in Britain and across European societies. These structural changes are reflected discursively in changing ‘metaphors of transition’ (Evans and Furlong, 1997) within British youth research, which draw attention to the increasing complexity and precariousness of youth transitions in the 1990s. Thus, the dominant functionalist perspective of the 1970s referring to ‘pathways to work’ was supplanted in the 1980s by a structuralist emphasis upon

youth ‘trajectories’ as powerfully determined by changing economic conditions. Informed by post-structuralist social theory (e.g., Giddens, 1991; Beck, 1992), in the 1990s a greater stress was placed upon the active, deliberative role of young people in ‘navigating’ the transition to full citizenship, and even in the rejection of an unproblematic status transition altogether (e.g., Furlong and Cartmel, 1997). Although the theoretical significance of the changing economic and social climate for youth transitions remains disputed, most youth researchers agree that transitions are more protracted and more complex than for previous generations. Coles (1995), for example, refers to ‘extended’ and ‘fractured’ transitions in which young people’s economic dependency upon their parents continues longer than for previous generations, and status transitions produce uncertain and often unsatisfactory results. By contributing to the increasing marginalisation of youth these economic and social changes also have implications for young people’s access to full citizenship rights (France, 1997; Williamson, 1993). Changes in the nature of labour market transitions and in young people’s social entitlements are central to these accounts. The Economic Marginalisation of Youth As Figure 2.1 shows, recent decades have witnessed considerable growth in youth unemployment associated mainly with the rapid decline in youth employment opportunities: Figure 2.1 Youth Unemployment in the UK as a Percentage of the

Economically Active Population Aged 16-19 (1973-2002)

Source: Labour Force Survey, OECD Economic Outlook (International Labour Organisation definition) This process of economic marginalisation has fundamentally restructured youth transitions by making simple ‘one step’ transitions from compulsory education to

work an uncommon experience for young people in contemporary Britain. Thus, only 9% of school leavers at age 16 in 2002 entered full-time employment, with a further 9% entering government-supported training (DfES, 2003a). In particular, reduced demand for unskilled labour in the manufacturing industry, coupled with the disintegration of the apprenticeship system, has had a significant effect upon the youth labour market.1 Declining employment opportunities for early school leavers have also been accompanied by the concentration of youth employment in poorly paid and insecure service sector occupations, especially for young women.2 Labour market deregulation during the 1980s has exacerbated this trend. The withdrawal of Wages Council protection for young people in 1986 ensured that young people’s pay as a proportion of adults’ pay has fallen dramatically since 1979. Over the 1979-96 period, wages for 18-20 year olds expressed as a proportion of adult pay fell from 62% to 47% for men, and from 77% to 57% for women. Two thirds (67%) of 16 and 17 year olds, and well over one third of 18 to 20 year olds, in employment in 1997 were within the lowest paid decile of the UK working population (Low Pay Commission, 1998: 37). The introduction of Minimum Wage legislation, whilst designed to address the issue of low pay, has ensured that many young people continue to receive lower rates of pay than their older counterparts through the introduction of a lower ‘Development Rate’ for employees aged 18-21, and the complete absence of minimum wage protection for 16 and 17 year olds (although recent proposals are seeking to address this problem – see HM Treasury, 2004; Low Pay Commission, 2004). Although labour market deregulation policies were originally presented as job creation measures, youth unemployment remains persistently higher than overall unemployment rates. Despite government efforts to reduce youth unemployment, culminating in the New Deal initiative (see below), by winter 1998/99 unemployment amongst 16-17 year olds remained chronically high, with more than one in five men (22.9%) and more than one in six women (18.7%) out of work (LFS, 1999). Although unemployment rates for 18-24 year olds are generally somewhat lower, young people are nevertheless substantially more likely to experience short-term unemployment than older age groups.3 However, the true extent of youth unemployment is probably much higher than official estimates suggest since marginal groups such as those not in education, training or

1 Coles (1995) cites research by Ashton and colleagues estimating that apprenticeship places have declined from nearly a quarter of a million in the mid-1960s to just 55,000 by the end of the 1980s (Ashton et al., 1990). 2 Coles (1995) cites research by Sly (1993) revealing that 59% of 16-17 year olds not in fulltime education were employed in distribution, hotels and catering and ‘other’ service sectors in 1992. Over three quarters (76%) of young women aged 18-19 were employed in tertiary sector occupations such as clerical, personal service and sales work. 3However, whilst young people are more likely to experience unemployment than older age groups they are much less likely to experience prolonged unemployment. In winter 1998/99 only 29.7% of 16-24 year olds who were unemployed (according to International Labour Organisation definitions) had been unemployed for more than six months compared with 48.6% of those aged 25-49 and 58.7% of those aged 50+ (seasonally adjusted) (LFS, 1999).

employment (‘Status 0’ youth) are under-represented in surveys such as the Labour Force Survey and the Youth Cohort Study (Istance et al., 1994). As a result of economic restructuring, young people have thus been effectively marginalised from the labour force and ‘displaced’ into education and training programmes. The effects of these changes are also mediated by the influence of inequalities of social class, gender, ethnicity and locality. Despite suggestions that structural factors are of declining significance in shaping youth transitions (e.g., Chisholm, 1990), empirical research continues to emphasise the role of persistent inequalities in shaping young careers (e.g., Banks et al., 1992; Bates and Riseborough, 1993; MacDonald, 1997). These factors are especially salient in relation to the expansion and diversification of post-16 education and training. Education, Training and Youth Transitions The rapid contraction of the youth labour market is a powerful incentive for young people to continue in post-compulsory education. The expansion of post-16 education and training also offers policy makers an obvious ‘solution’ to the problem of youth unemployment. Since the early 1980s there has been a striking growth in post-16 educational participation. This expansion has been particularly substantial since the late 1980s. Between 1987 and 1994 the proportion of 16 year olds in full-time education rose by 75% (DfEE, 1996). Growth in educational participation amongst 18 year olds has been even more dramatic, more than doubling during this period (DfEE, 1996). At the end of 2003, four fifths (79.6%) of 17 year olds and three fifths (59.8%) of 18 year olds were participating in some form of post-16 education or training (DfES, 2004). At the same time, it may be that, as Roberts (1993) suggests, the expansion of post-compulsory education is serving a ‘warehousing’ function, which in some cases adds little to the employment prospects of those disadvantaged by social class, ethnicity or locality. The most striking patterns of inclusion/exclusion relate to different outcomes between those who stay on in full-time education and those who leave early. For early school leavers without a clear career strategy, the simple transition from school to work has been replaced by a succession of training schemes culminating in April 1998 in the launch of the New Deal programme. However, clear differences in the quality of similar schemes, and in the employment prospects of participants, have been evident since at least the mid-1980s and have prompted widespread scepticism as to the value of much youth training (Craig, 1991; Ainley, 1994). Access to quality employer-led schemes with good job prospects has largely been governed by prior educational attainment, social class and ethnic origin (Courtnay and McAleese, 1993). The context of youth training can thus be as significant as its content, with some young people, especially those from working-class and minority ethnic backgrounds, receiving training that offers slender prospects of future employment (Raffe, 1990). In addition to concerns about the element of compulsion contained within the New Deal programme, significant doubts persist about the quality of the training options (Player, 1999). As a result, youth training tends to reproduce and accentuate structured inequalities of class, ethnicity and locality. Whilst for many young people the