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Global Employment Trends for Youth: 2011 update

The International Labour Organization (ILO) launched the Global Employment Trends for Youth: 2011 update, as a follow-up to the Global Employment Trends for Youth, August 2010 (GET Youth 2010). Grounding in the findings of the GET Youth 2010, which featured an in-depth analysis on the impact of the global economic crisis on youth employment, the update presents a compressed overview of youth (aged 15-24) employment trends. The latest figures demonstrate both similarities and dissimilarities in youth employment trends among developing and developed economies. On the whole, the figures manifest the stagnant state of the global labour market and the adversities met by the youth in finding and maintaining a decent job.

The report affirms that the job crisis among youth in both developing and developed countries has deepened vis--vis the global economic crisis. At the end of 2010, there were an estimated 75.1 million young people searching for jobs - a distinct increase from 70.5 million in 2007. Moreover, the contracted job market has not undergone a satisfying recovery during the past year, as indicated by a mere 0.1% decrease in the unemployment rate in 2011 (12.6% compared to 12.7% last year).

The report points out that the crisis more severely hit young people of developed economies, including the European Union, and more young males than young women. In all European countries, youth unemployment rates were recorded higher than the adult rates in 2009. Moreover, the period needed to find employment has been extended on average. Besides, a large proportion of those who did manage to find a job are actually engaged in part-time work. Between 2007 and 2010, part-time youth employment has increased by 5.2% in the United Kingdom, 9.2% in Iceland, and 17% in Ireland. This increase provides a pertinent reflection of the reality, where young job-seekers are willingly taking on any positions available. As a result, the report finds a growing frustration over unemployment and underemployment among youth, which has led to an increase in their inactivity.

The report yet emphasizes that there are larger numbers of unemployed youth in developing economies. An alarming set of data indicates that over the past 20 years, one in four youth in the Middle East and North Africa has remained unemployed, despite the progress made in the provision of education. A low rate of unemployment in some low-income developing countries does not imply better conditions for the youth, as it may also reflect the fact that the poor must work in these regions, and at times under coarse working conditions. The report attributes the prolonged stagnation of labour markets of developing countries to structural factors, largely pertaining to the underdevelopment of productive potentials of the economies. If such stagnation lingers for longer and the young generation is “scarred” more deeply as the GET Youth 2010 puts it, there can be longer-term consequences, such as an outburst of discontent over the overall economic and political structure. Such discontent has come to play as one aspect of the Arab Spring, as well as recent youth protests in Spain, Greece, Italy, and the United Kingdom, the 2011 report argues.

The remedies thus should aim for a long-term solution. Some policy measures recommended by the report to promote youth employment are as follows:

• develop an integrated national policy framework for growth and job creation with measurable targets and achievable outcomes, under which youth employment strategies are assigned priority;

• establish broad-based partnerships among governments, employer organizations, trade union, and other relevant organizations, to turn youth employment commitment into reality;

• improve the quality of jobs and the competitiveness of enterprises with a view to increasing the number of jobs in productive sectors and ensuring job quality for many young people under precarious working conditions;

• invest in the quality of education and training, and improve its relevance to labor market needs through more effective coordination across education, training systems and labor market institutions;

• enhance the design and increase funding of active labor market policies to support the implementation of national youth employment priorities;

• review the provision of employment services with the objective of offering a set of standard services to all young people and more intensive assistance to disadvantaged youth; and

• pursue financial and macroeconomic policies that aim to remove obstacles to economic recovery, such as bank and debt restructuring.

The report also outlines the intervention strategies that have been undertaken by the governments, such as those addressing inadequate job matching, poor signaling, and slow job growth barriers. It remarks that non-State actors, such as enterprises, have an active role to play, for instance, by expanding investments targeted to young workers. Still, the report comments that long-term fixes need to be systemically devised at the political level. Otherwise, the political pressure “to prevent the disheartening of a ‘lost generation’ is likely to increase over the short term and governments may be forced to shift priorities,” the report anticipates.

Related links:

ILO Youth Employment Topic Portal

ILO Programme on Youth Employment

The Youth Employment Network

An interview with Sara Elder, ILO economist, on youth unemployment

E-discussion on youth employment (11 October - 7 November), coordinated by the United Nations Programme on Youth