Nearly 10 percent of Norwegian youth, many of them from relatively affluent middle-class families, have registered themselves in the state welfare system known as NAV. The numbers correspond with an alarming high school dropout rate, as bored Norwegian teenagers accustomed to a comfortable lifestyle turn to the state for support.
Newspaper Aftenposten has reported that around 80,000 young Norwegians aged 18 to 30 are now registered and obtaining welfare benefits from NAV. The number has been stable for the past three years, at a time when Norway’s unemployment rate has sunk to record lows and the country’s economy has been strong.
Around 40,000 of the young Norwegians are categorized as having reduced work abilities, reported Aftenposten. Another 30,000 are out of work and can’t seem to find a job, thus qualifying for unemployment benefits, while around 10,000 are defined as being disabled. That can also include both physical and psychological problems, and may reflect an earlier reported rise in cases of depression among young Norwegians.
“Many of these young Norwegians have health problems and can’t work,” Yngvar Åsholt of NAV told Aftenposten. “But 40,000 with reduced working ability is too many. A solution must be found to work with the school system to make sure they fulfill educational requirements.”
The high and stable level of youth on welfare comes amidst reports that Norwegian schools demand far fewer classroom hours than school systems in other countries, and far less discipline. One anonymous 17-year-old high school student taking part in a program to educate health care workers wrote on the paper’s youth page Si:D on Monday that she was shocked by the attitudes of some of her fellow students.
‘Lazy, spoiled, lacking respect’
“They sit with their feet up on the desks and demand to take breaks, or complain out loud to the teacher that ‘you conduct such boring lectures,'” she wrote, adding that many then divert their attention to social media during class hours. “And then the girls often start talking behind the teacher’s back. And these are supposed to be tomorrow’s health care workers. I wouldn’t let them put a hand on me.”
She described a youth subculture in Norway that’s lazy, spoiled and lacking respect, and of fellow students who pull others who are more motivated into it. Many working parents are in despair over what to do with their offspring who skip classes or drop out of school, don’t look for work and spend most of their time staring at their smartphones, iPads or laptops. Others are calling social media “the new dope” among youth, that’s highly addictive.
A recent report on higher levels of immigrants on welfare pales in comparison to the numbers of Norwegian youth on welfare. At a time when it’s becoming harder to find jobs for both unskilled workers and those without high school education, NAV officials are worried, and finding it necessary to “think new,” said Åsholdt.
“A portion (of the youth) simply aren’t motivated,” he said. “Some of them get out of bed late in the morning and live on the sidelines of normal society.” At age 18, Norwegians are considered myndig (legally responsible for themselves) and parents no longer need to support them. Many do, a practice that’s debatable when the youth themselves keep living at home with nothing to do.
“We’re trying to get them into work as soon as possible,” Åshold told Aftenposten, denying that it’s too easy to obtain welfare benefits in Norway. “But this isn’t just a job for NAV. The problems can start before high school, and we have to do something earlier.” Calls have gone out for longer schools days and more discipline in the classroom, others for introduction of vocational programs at an earlier stage.
NAV is cooperating with some local school systems and employers on vocational programs where youth can get some job training and study enough to become certified as, for example, electricians or car mechanics. Others get steered into other programs with some success. Around 54,000 of the youth currently receive financial support on a regular basis, a number NAV is keen to lower.