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Bleak Outlook for Youth Employment

  • Lisa Schlein

People enter an unemployment registration office in Madrid, September 4, 2012.

People enter an unemployment registration office in Madrid, September 4, 2012.

GENEVA — A new report finds that 75 million young people are unemployed around the world. The study by the International Labor Organization suggests jobless rates among young people will worsen globally as the spillover of the euro crisis spreads from advanced to emerging economies.

The International Labor Organization reports the global economic crisis is having a particularly devastating affect on people between the ages of 15 and 24 trying to enter the labor market.

The study finds the impact of the euro crisis is spreading beyond Europe and slowing down economies from East Asia to Latin America. It notes the situation is particularly severe in the Middle East and North Africa, where youth unemployment is above 25 percent and rising.

Lead author of the report and head of the ILO Global Employment Trends Unit, Ekkehard Ernst, tells VOA the situation in the Middle East is projected to become even worse in the next five years.

“We currently are seeing that the region has a youth unemployment rate of 26 percent and that is expected to increase to over 28 percent by 2017," says Ernst. "In the North African region, the situation is slightly better in the sense that we see a slight decline over the next five years, but from a very high level. We are currently at over 27 percent youth unemployment rates on average, in this region.”

The study forecasts youth unemployment to rise from 9.5 percent this year to 10.4 percent in 2017 in East Asia. It notes the youth unemployment rate in sub-Saharan Africa has been relatively stable at around 12 percent for a number of years. It says the continent had expected faster improvement in its youth labor markets - but now, that will take longer to achieve.

Among all the regions, the ILO says youth unemployment is expected to fall only in developed economies. It forecasts a gradual drop from 17.5 percent this year to 15.6 percent in 2017.

Author Ernst cautions against any undue optimism. He says the declining jobless rate in developed countries has little to do with growing employment for young people.

“Many young job seekers are now discouraged and drop out of the labor market," he says. "They become inactive and stay at home and hope that at some point in the future the situation becomes better. But, that means basically, they are not actively looking for a job and then it will be extremely harder for them, increasingly hard actually then to find a job several years down the road.”

To address this growing problem, the ILO is calling for targeted measures, such as employment guarantees and training to help get young job seekers off the street and into useful activities. It notes countries including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden and Latvia have enacted job guarantee programs for youth, which have worked well in drawing young people back into the labor market.

The ILO’s Ekkehard Ernst says the cost of implementing such plans would be less than half a percent of GDP (gross domestic product) among European countries. He acknowledges this is a fair amount of money for countries in crisis. But, he says, it is a lot less than the costs that come from young unemployed people permanently losing touch with the labor market.

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