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ILO Report Warns of Scarred Generation of Young Workers

  • Joe DeCapua

The International Labor Organization (ILO) said the global recession has created – what it calls – a generation of “scarred” youth. It says frustration in finding good jobs has contributed to protests movements around the world.

ILO economist Steve Kapsos said this scarred generation of young workers continues to grow.

“If you look globally at the number of unemployed youth around the world (it) has increased dramatically as a result of the global economic crisis. We estimate that there’s about 4.6 million more unemployed youth today than in 2007,” he said.

And they face short and long term challenges.

“Young job seekers are having to queue, wait, longer periods of time, before securing their first employment opportunity. The wages that they receive when they enter the labor market are lower than they otherwise would have been. And this really sets them off on a lower trajectory in terms of their employment and their careers,” he said.


Not all young unemployed or under employed are alike. Kapsos says there a difference between those in developed and developing nations.

“In developed economies, the challenge is really one of generating employment, lowering unemployment rates. In developing regions, it’s really the quality of employment, the productivity of employment where we see large numbers of young people living below the poverty line,” he said.

In sub-Saharan Africa, economic conditions differ from many other developing regions. That’s because it has fared a bit better during the recession.

Kapsos said, “If you look at the unemployment rate in the sub-Saharan African region, our estimates show very little change during the global economic crisis. It’s really not an issue of unemployment in the region. It’s one of low productivity employment. We estimate in the countries for which we have data, about a quarter of young people around the world in developing countries are among the working poor. They’re working, but they’re living below the $1.25 poverty line. The figures in many sub-Saharan African countries are much higher than that.”

Also, sub-Saharan African countries have had faster growth rates in recent years than many other regions. Kapsos says while that offers some hope for young workers, there are still some underlying problems.

“If you look at the sources of growth, a lot of it is commodities based. A lot of it is the extractives industry. And those are very capital intensive. They’re not labor intensive. So, there is a real challenge in terms of generating employment in the formal sector, formal wage employment, that can really lift people out of poverty,” he said.

Not meeting demand

The ILO economist said a big reason for the high youth unemployment rate in the world is a skills mismatch. Young workers don’t have the skills needed for the jobs that are available.

Kapsos said education is one solution and improvements in education have occurred. But he says there are often wide education and skill gaps between men and women in developing countries.

Will things improve for young people when the global recession finally ends? Kapsos said not right away because labor markets typically lag behind the overall economic recovery.

“When we’re talking about youth, it’s even worse than adults in terms of a delayed labor market recovery. Young people are often the first to be let go in an economic downtown, and they’re often the last ones to get back into the labor market and to secure employment when things pick up,” he said.

The International Labor Organization findings can be found in its new report Global Employment Trends for Youth: 2011 Update.