Youth employment in crisis
Young people have been disproportionately affected by the global
crisis that broke out in the autumn of 2008. This trend has exacerbated
earlier challenges and there is concern that unless action is taken, the
situation of youth will become unsustainable, putting social cohesion at
Interview with International Institute for Labour Studies Director
Raymond Torres and ILO economist Steven Tobin, co-authors of a new
report entitled “Youth employment in crisis”.
Q: How have young people fared since
the start of the crisis?
Since the start of the crisis, the youth unemployment rate has risen
over 7 percentage points - the sharpest two year increase on record -
and now exceeds 21 percent on average in the countries for which data
In total, young persons - or those aged 15 to 24 - account for over
22 percent of the increase in the number of unemployed since the
beginning of 2007 and is now nearly three times the average level among
adults aged 25 and over.
With labour market conditions continuing to worsen, long-term
unemployment among youth has already begun to rise in almost all
countries, notably in Spain and the United States.
The impact of long-term unemployment on youth can be devastating and
long-lasting. Young people, who lack general or vocational education and
work experience, are especially vulnerable to the crisis.
Many young people who are employed are “overqualified” for the job
they perform. A sense of discouragement and precariousness is spreading
Q: Why is it so important to address
youth employment specifically?
The longer young persons remain out of touch with the labour market,
the more difficult - and costly - it is to return to productive
There are also a number of important social implications related to
exclusion, including susceptibility to anti-social behaviour, including
juvenile delinquency, and social unrest.
Already before the crisis, youth unemployment was higher than adult
unemployment. And many well-educated young persons who did have a job,
especially young women, were engaged in relatively unskilled or informal
occupations, entailing a major waste of human resources, as well
considerable frustration among young people and their families.
Moreover, as the outlook for jobs worsens, many young people might
see little benefit of furthering education or training, which would have
considerable negative socio-economic consequences over the medium-term.
Q: Have countries adopted targeted
measures to support youth employment?
As part of crisis responses, many countries have adopted a wide range
of measures in support of youth.
Promoting education and training and avoiding early school drop-outs;
Job search support, activation programs and employment subsidies
targeted at young jobseekers;
Special programs for young people who are neither in education nor in
the labour market (by far the most vulnerable group).
However, concerns over growing budget deficits are triggering
discussions of whether the measures adopted, including those for youth,
should be downsized or removed altogether.
Such a cost-cutting approach would improve fiscal balances in the
short-term, but at the risk of perpetuating poor employment outcomes for
youth in the longer term. Fiscal consolidation should therefore be
carried out carefully, both in terms of pace and content of the
Q: How effective are these policy
As job creation remains weak, promoting longer stays in the education
system reduce the number of entrants into the labour market (therefore
to some extent containing unemployment), while at the same time
enhancing the knowledge and skills of young people, which could bolster
labour market outcomes and productivity in the near term.
However such efforts, if successful, will only postpone entry into
the labour market and without complementary measures to support overall
youth employment, new labour market entrants will be at risk of rapidly
joining the ranks of the growing number of discouraged and underemployed
By making active support available to young persons without much work
experience, policy-makers can reduce the risk of social exclusion.
To be effective, these programs require strong institutional
capacity, in the form of efficient public employment services, training
or early detection of particular employment disadvantages.
More fundamentally, youth programs will only work if, first, there is
sufficient job creation in general and, second, the jobs are of
sufficient quality - there are indeed limited career prospects for youth
employed on precarious jobs. This is why implementing the Global Jobs
Pact is so important.
Q: In this context, what are the ILO
A coherent strategy combining supportive macroeconomic policies,
strengthened school-to-work transitions and well-designed support to the
unemployed or at-risk of exclusion, is needed. This is feasible: some
countries like Germany and Brazil do much better than others.
Even before the crisis, the situation with regard to youth employment
was unsatisfactory in most countries.
Consequently, the crisis should be seen as an opportunity to solve
long-standing youth employment problems and to develop youth employment
strategies that take into account all the dimensions of decent work, and
not just youth employment in quantitative terms.
This, of course, has budgetary implications in the short-term.
However, recent analysis suggests that it is possible to support
employment while at the same time meeting fiscal - and social - goals
over the long-term.
The social partners must be key actors in addressing the challenges
facing young people and creating a sustainable environment where youth
can harness their potential and long-run development for individual
well-being and for the better of society. (ILO)