PARIS – Europe is failing its youth, and none more than its ethnic and religious minorities.
As Europe slides back into recession, young graduates from the Class of 2012 across Europe are returning from their summer holidays and finding that even their hard-won university diplomas are no protection against rising continent-wide unemployment.
Nearly a quarter of young people in the eurozone are jobless — and for those from minority backgrounds, the hurdles are even higher.
Jacinthe Adande, a 28-year-old Frenchwoman of half-Cameroonian origin, has struggled to piece together part-time jobs since she graduated from the prestigious Sorbonne four years ago with a literature degree. She's had to move back home with her mother in a heavily immigrant-populated suburb of Paris, and fights to remain upbeat despite her years of rejection. "I have to be positive," Adande said, "otherwise it's guaranteed depression."
Editors: This is the latest installment in Class of 2012, an exploration of Europe's financial crisis through the eyes of young people emerging from the cocoon of student life into the worst downturn the continent has seen since the end of World War II.
As her long job search has dragged on, doubts and questions that Adande says wouldn't have occurred to her three years ago have begun creeping into her thoughts. What if her African-sounding name or her skin color is making her job search harder?
"I started to ask myself whether there was some discrimination. I don't know for sure. They never tell you why," said Adande, who has sought work in a variety of fields including English teaching. "It's hard even to get an interview."
Quantifying the problem is tricky because French law bars the collection of racial data. However, experts who've studied the problem say there is no doubt that ethnic discrimination is aggravating job searches. It's the most widely cited of all forms of discrimination — including age, sex and disability — in a survey last year of human resources directors asked what kind of complaints they receive most.
The problem is both "hard to prove and hard to eradicate" said Annick Cohen-Haegel, the author of the report by consulting agency Cegos and business school Paris-Dauphine.
Ethnic discrimination also makes up the largest share, 30 percent, of complaints filed with France's Rights Defender, an independent body set up last year as a citizens' watchdog.
"The biggest problem for young people is to enter the work force, that's where the most discrimination happens, at the point of recruitment," Cohen-Haegel said. She said that her research showed three-quarters of French companies have enacted "diversity policies" but discrimination remains entrenched.
France, with Europe's largest concentration of Muslim and North African immigrants, is on the front lines of the discrimination problem, but it is not alone.
In Germany, a university conducted a study sending out identical resumes in response to hundreds of job ads from small businesses offering internships. The only difference was that one had a Turkish name and the other a traditional German name on the top. The applications with the Turkish name were offered job interviews nearly 25 percent less of the time than those with the German name.
The same University of Konstanz study found that with larger companies, 14 percent fewer of the fictitious applicants with the Turkish name were offered job interviews. If that seems stark, the prejudices run far deeper in France: In a similar French study, a fictional "Aurelie Menard" was invited to interviews three times more often than a "Khadija Diouf" with identical qualifications.
"There is an impression among many people that they are qualified to do whatever the job is but despite that won't be hired," said Bekir Yilmaz, head of the Turkish Community of Berlin, an umbrella organization representing the capital's 76 Turkish community groups.
Turkish youth often decide just to seek employment back in Turkey. "When the youth enter the workforce," Yilmaz said, "they just look for their chances elsewhere."
Recent numbers seem to back that up.
There are some 3 million people of Turkish origin in Germany, a country of 82 million — the largest single minority group. Around 700,000 of them carry a German passport. After steady growth for decades, the numbers dropped for the first time in 2008 — by 2,200.
In 2009, their ranks went down by more than 8,000, with some 35,400 Turkish citizens leaving Germany for good, according to the Federal Statistical Office.
In France the scope of problem is harder to determine. Spurred partly by memories of France's role during World War II of organizing the arrest and deportation to Nazi death camps of tens of thousands of Jews, France today prohibits census takers from collecting data on individuals' ethnic or religious background.
But researchers find ways to get an idea of the discrimination problem.
France's INSEE national statistical agency found in a study that graduates with North African parents "have a serious problem of insertion" into the workforce.
"The crisis is making it worse," said Isabelle Quentin-Levy, an official with LICRA, a Paris-based international anti-discrimination association.
Three years after graduation, 12 percent of young people with parents from North Africa had not worked at all since getting their diploma, more than double the rate for graduates with French-born parents, the INSEE report says. Those with jobs were also much less likely than graduates with French-born parents to have long-term contracts three years after leaving school.
That comes against a backdrop of Europe's harshest youth unemployment picture in decades.
Youth unemployment is over 50 percent in Spain and Greece. In France the figure is 23.4 percent and in Italy it is 35.3 percent, and it is rising in both countries, according to the latest figures from Eurostat, the statistical office of the European Union. For Europe as a whole, new figures from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development show 22.5 percent of youths aged 15-24 are unemployed, up 9.2 percent from a year earlier.
Benjamin Abtan, head of the European Grassroots Antiracist Movement, an umbrella organization for groups across Europe, says he hopes his group can spur changes.
The organization has found widespread and increasing discrimination against ethnic minorities via so-called "tests" across Europe that focused on young people's access to bars, nightclubs and restaurants. In Warsaw, for example, after the organization's experiments showed a significant number of nightspots were barring minorities, the city government took action and began to withhold contracts from any club owners found to be discriminating.
Abtan says his group plans to begin running tests next year on hiring.
Jean-Francois Amadieu, a professor of sociology at Paris' Sorbonne university who studies discrimination in the workplace, said the problem is more insidious than overt racism based on a job applicant's skin color.
"Young graduates from minority backgrounds don't have the same opportunities to find internships, which you need to gain some work experience," Amadieu said.
Amadieu heads France's Observatoire des Discriminations, or Discrimination Watchdog, created in 2003 to investigate the prevalence of discrimination in hiring.
He says another factor working against minority graduates is that they are under-represented in France's best universities. As underprivileged black and North African students have less of a chance of getting into top schools, they are penalized early on.
"It's a problem of social background," Amadieu said, "not just of discrimination."
But even minorities who have graduated from elite schools like Adande find a color wall in hiring persists, and fear the crisis is making it worse.
"I'm sorry to say it, but France is becoming a land of discrimination," Adande said.