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Paper presented at the Conference “New economic concepts in the current European crises“.

Abstract: This paper discusses the matter of youth unemployment in Southern Europe, using Portugal as a case-study. Using a framework of analysis inspired by the works of Karl Polanyi, it aims to demonstrate how the current explanations and solutions for youth unemployment are based on misconceptions and wrong assumptions about its causes and the functioning of the Portuguese political economy. It shows how consecutive government policies, aimed to create a more flexible labour market, in Portugal ended up creating a labour market where the youth is disproportionally affected by the global “commodification of labour” that started in the 1970’s. The push towards atypical labour contracts, under the neo-liberal ideology of “flexibility” and “employability” across the Portuguese economic spectrum has created a “dual tier labour” market in Portugal in which the youth is disproportionally present in the lower tiers of employment, ending up operating as a buffer in times of economic distress. While the general lack of social protections for atypical work contracts was partially compensated by the existence of a strong but severally strained “welfare-family” system, the increased flexible nature of labour relations in Portugal forced many young people to fall into long-lasting unemployment or to join the growing ranks of “the Precariat”.
This paper will conclude that an increased labour market “flexibilisation” without the empowerment of existing social institutions against the will of the market is unlikely to solve the plight of youth unemployment in Portugal.