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ILO: Youth Unemployment at Record High - 2004-08-11

The International Labor Organization says youth unemployment has skyrocketed worldwide to record levels. A new study shows 88 million young people aged 15 to 24 have no jobs. This represents a 25 percent increase over the past decade.

The ILO report says young people represent a quarter of the working age population between the ages of 15 and 64. Yet they accounted for almost half of the total 186 million people out of work worldwide last year.

Jane Stewart is director of ILO's Skills and Employment Department. Among the world's 550 million working poor, she says 130 million are young people who are unable to lift themselves and their families above the one-dollar-a-day poverty line.

"If we cut in half the youth employment rate, which is now at 14.4 [percent] and cut it in half, bring it down to 7.2 percent, we can actually contribute at least to $2.2 trillion to the world's GDP," she said.

The report finds young women are particularly hard hit. It says those who can find work often have to put up with poor conditions such as long working hours, low pay and no social security or other social benefits.

ILO economists say the highest rates of youth unemployment, nearly 27 percent, were in the Middle East and North Africa, followed by sub-Saharan Africa with 21 percent. It says youth unemployment fell by two percent, to 13.4 percent in industrialized economies, the only region to show a decrease. East Asia had the lowest jobless rate with seven percent.

Although sub-Saharan Africa has a lot of young people out of work, the co-author of the report, Dorothea Schmidt, says there are some slightly optimistic signs that things may improve.

"For example, sub-Saharan Africa is one of the few regions where the gap between youth growth and youth employment growth is actually almost equal. We have seen in other regions, this enormous gap. But, within sub-Saharan Africa, it is almost equal," she said.

Ms. Schmidt says there are big differences among Asia's three sub-regions. She notes East Asia, which mainly means China, has the smallest problem.

By comparison, the report shows South Asia has nearly twice as much youth unemployment and South-East Asia, has the largest number of jobless youth.

The ILO urges governments to target job creation policies specifically toward young people. It warns that people who are unemployed when they are young are likely to be unemployed for the rest of their lives, a situation which bodes poorly for the world economy.