Editorial: No jobs, no hope

The sight of young people of immigrant backgrounds rioting in the suburbs of French cities has had repercussions across Europe. In Sweden, people have been looking again at the segregation of Stockholm and Malmö and asking ‘could it happen here’?

The Liberal Party went as far as identifying suburbs with low educational achievement and high unemployment, and demanded more police should be sent in to build relationships with communities. But surely if high unemployment is the issue, then creating jobs for immigrants should be a bigger priority than sending in the cops?

Indeed, according to Statistics Sweden, over 40 percent of foreign-born Swedish residents between the ages of 20 and 24 are unemployed. Over 40 percent of Swedish residents born outside the OECD are also jobless.

It is tempting to draw comparisons between segregation in Sweden and France, and to conclude that it’s only a matter of time before the youths of Rosengård and Rinkeby take to the streets.

But drawing such comparisons would be too simplistic: Sweden’s approach to integration has been very different from that taken by France, where race and immigration status are practically ignored by officialdom as major social issues. All French citizens are equal, and minority groups don’t fit in to the picture of French Republican equality. Sweden has been much better equipped to take special measures to address problems in the suburbs.

Public attitudes to immigration are also different. French interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy is accused of inflaming the situation there by referring to the rioters as “racailles” or “rabble”, an offensive term used to describe immigrants, but a term in quite widespread use. It’s hard to imagine a Swedish minister using the word “blatte” derogatively.

But while the language of debate here is softer, more keen to address the real problems that exist, blatant discrimination still occurs across society (the fact that many bars in Stockholm routinely refuse entry to immigrants is shocking in such a supposedly tolerant society).

Yet the most important problem of all is high immigrant unemployment.

A report last week revealed that there was a disproportionate number of immigrants among those classed as “occupationally handicapped” by labour exchanges. The author of the report, Mikael Holmqvist said that, in this country “to be an immigrant is a de facto occupational handicap.”

When so many people with foreign backgrounds are denied the dignity of earning their own money and of participating actively in the society, how could they not feel disenfranchised?

Göran Persson’s proposed solution to the problem is to improve educational opportunities in the suburbs. A worthy aim, but what is the use of getting an education when there are no jobs?

No jobs for immigrants, because there are hardly any jobs for Swedes. Official Swedish unemployment may only be 5 percent, but the real rate of joblessness (including those people on government schemes and those on incapacity benefits) is at least double that figure, and could be as high as 20 percent.

When jobs are so hard to come by, it is probably just a fact of life that Swedes (of the blond, blue-eyed variety) will end up with first pickings. Immigrants, and not just those from Iraq or Syria, but also those from richer countries, fall to the bottom of the pile. Why choose the guy with the funny accent when Inger here will blend in nicely?

It would be nice to think that anti-discrimination measures could help immigrants into jobs, but these will make no difference while unemployment is high.

Unemployment will be a major issue at the next election. Tackling it is Sweden’s best hope of ensuring that all who live here feel part of Swedish society.

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