News / Economy

Global Youth Unemployment at All-Time High

UN agency says 81 million young people are unemployed around the world
UN agency says 81 million young people are unemployed around the world


Carla Babb

The United Nations says global youth unemployment is at an all time high. In a recent report, the UN's International Labour Organization says 81 million young people between the ages of 15 and 24 are unemployed, and youth unemployment is expected to rise throughout the year.

Merri Shaffer is unemployed. She's searching for a job, like many of the 81 million other young people out of work worldwide. 

"I've been looking, I've been hunting, a lot of online research. A lot of job sites that I feel are coming up completely leaving me empty handed," Shaffer says.

The economic downturn is hitting young people more than others, according to Elena Gastaldo of the UN's International Labour Organization. 

"In these days, young men and women are three times more likely to be unemployed than their older counterpart," Gastaldo notes.

In developed countries, like here in the U.S., nearly one young person in every six is unemployed.  But as the report shows, youth unemployment is a global problem.  It affects all types of economies, in every region of the world.

Global Youth Unemployment at All-Time High
Global Youth Unemployment at All-Time High

Young people in the Middle East and North Africa have the highest rate of unemployment.  See an interactive map of youth unemployment in the Middle East

American University professor Diane Singerman says the explanation is simple.

"There is a youth bulge in the Middle East, which means that a very high percentage of the population is young," Singerman explains.

Major Reasons for Youth Unemployment in the Middle East

  • There is a youth bulge in the Middle East, which means that a very high percentage of the population is young. In fact, more than 30 percent of the population is between the ages of 15-29, representing more than 100 million youth.
  • Education is not delivering jobs for young Middle Easterners. They are educated, but not in things that are necessarily where the jobs are. Some say, "young people are hedonistic, young people are Westernized, young people are lazy," but you have to look at what types of choices the governments have made to educate those people in ways that they will be able to have the skills and the talents to figure out their careers.
  • Gender expectations play a role. Young women in the Middle East are three times more likely than men to be unemployed. If women are not making a lot of money in the first place, and they feel vulnerable at work, and then on top of it, they are criticized by some for not keeping up their domestic duties, some of them feel it is not a rational decision for them to work.
  • Young people often feel repressed in the Middle East. If governments want young people to contribute and want their energy, they need to invite them in and give them a voice.

-From VOA's Interview with Diane Singerman

In Egypt, the most populous country in the Middle East, the government used to guarantee jobs for all college graduates, but no longer. And many of its graduates are not sufficiently qualified for the private sector jobs that exist.  

Gender also plays a role in the Middle East. Fewer than one in three young women there is employed, even though women are generally more educated than men.  

"The idea is that women should be educated, but they should be educated to take care of their children," explains Singerman.

Galstado says the outlook for young people all over the world is bleak.

"Young people, particularly in times of crisis, are the last to be hired and the first to be fired," she says.

She adds that young people have two strikes against them:  they lack a large network and also work experience.

Merri Shaffer says young people should be given an opportunity to get the experience employers are looking for.

"It's incredibly annoying. It's incredibly frustrating," says Shaffer. "It's hard knowing that that could always be used against us when walking into the interview room or when sending out our resumes and cover letters."

But she won't give up the hunt.

"My dad continues to tell me that looking for work is a full-time job, so eight hours a day, maybe a little less than that, I'm searching, I'm shoveling resumes and cover letters out there, I'm still doing the best I can," Shaffer says.

Many young people like Shaffer hope the job market recovers soon, so their time and talents aren't wasted.

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