Youth unemployment at all time high

Half the world's unemployed are under 24, according to a new ILO study that charts the skyrocketing of youth unemployment over the past decade. Global Employment Trends for Youth, 2004 ( Note 1) puts the global youth unemployment rate at 14.4 per cent in 2003, a 26.8 per cent increase in the total number of unemployed young people over the past decade. Although young people represent 25 per cent of the working age population, they make up as much as 47 per cent of the 186 million people out of work worldwide in 2003. Some 88 million young people, aged 15 to 24, are out of work.

GENEVA - Youth unemployment is "an economic waste", says the new ILO report. Cutting the current youth unemployment rate in half would add some US$1.4 trillion, or four per cent of the 2003 global GDP value. Massive youth unemployment, the report warns, is also a social menace, breeding vulnerability and feelings of exclusion and worthlessness which may lead to "personally and socially destructive" activities.

"Unless the potential of young people can be used in a productive way, neither they nor economies as a whole will face a bright future," says ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. "Clearly, finding decent work for young people to staunch the youth employment crisis is one of the most significant challenges of our time."

Global employment trends for youth 2004, has found that rising worldwide unemployment hits young people - especially young women - hard. Those who do find work face long hours, short-term or informal contracts, low pay and little or no social protection, such as social security or other social benefits. One-fourth of the world's 550 million working poor are young, meaning some 130 million young people are not able to lift themselves and their families above the US$1 a day poverty line. The majority of these young working poor are women, the report says. Young people are, thus, increasingly dependent on their families, and more and more susceptible to exploitation of any kind.

Youth unemployment rates in 2003 were highest in the Middle East and North Africa (25.6 per cent) and sub-Saharan Africa (21 per cent), and lowest in East Asia (7 per cent) and the industrialized economies (13.4 per cent). The industrialized world was the only region where youth unemployment saw a notable decrease (from 15.4 per cent in 1993, to 13.4 per cent in 2003).

The report shows that the growth in the young population is rapidly outstripping the ability of economies to provide them with jobs. It says the overall youth population grew by 10.5 per cent over the last 10 years to over 1.1 billion in 2003, while youth employment grew by only 0.2 per cent to around 526 million young people with jobs. Compared to the previous decade, youth employment-to-population ratios decreased in 2003 in all regions except the Middle East and North Africa, and sub-Saharan Africa. Less than one in every two young people who could work was employed in 2003, compared to slightly more than one in two people in 1993.

Young people have more difficulty finding work than their adult counterparts, the report says, with the global youth unemployment rate in 2003 at 3.5 times the global adult rate. While there is a correlation in most countries between trends in youth and adult unemployment rates, the report notes that during recessions youth unemployment tends to rise more rapidly than adult joblessness.

The relative disadvantage of youth is more pronounced in developing countries, where they make up a strikingly higher proportion of the labour force than in industrialized economies, the report says. Eighty-five per cent of the world's youth live in developing countries and are 4.1 times more likely to be unemployed than adults, as compared to 2.3 times in industrialized economies.

The report also says that labour force participation rates for young people decreased in the world as a whole by almost four percentage points, partly as a result of young people staying in education or dropping out of the labour force. Participation was highest in East Asia (73.2 per cent) and sub-Saharan Africa (65.4 per cent) and lowest in the Middle East and North Africa (39.7 per cent).

Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East and North Africa were the only regions to show a rise in the share of young people participating in labour markets. In sub-Saharan Africa, stagnation in poverty reduction is forcing all those who are able to work to take any available job, while in the Middle East and North Africa, young women are making inroads in the labour market despite the general persistence of traditional family roles.

The report says that as well as suffering from fewer chances of finding employment, young people face discrimination based on age, sex and socioeconomic background. In all regions, the inactivity rate of young women is higher, and the employment-to-population ratios lower, than that of young men. Dominant ethnic groups fare better in most countries' job markets, and the study found that, in general, youth from lower-income households are more likely to be unemployed.

In developing regions - which have the largest shares of youth within the working-age population - the fate of youth entering the labour force in years to come will depend both on economic growth rates and on improvement in the employment content of growth, the report says. In industrialized economies, demographic change will likely reduce youth unemployment regions - but not automatically, the report warns. In the developing regions, as well as in the industrialized economies, a combination of both targeted and integrated policies on youth unemployment is needed to enable young people to overcome their natural disadvantage against older, more experienced workers.

Such policies have been identified by the UN Secretary-General's Youth Employment Network (YEN), a UN/World Bank/ILO partnership, headquartered at the ILO. Created following the Millennium Summit, the Network has responded to the growing challenge of youth employment by pooling the skills, experiences and knowledge of diverse partners at the global, national and local level.

The YEN has promoted the development of national action plans on youth employment among a group of "lead countries". So far ten countries ( Note 2) have stepped forward to champion the development of national policies to showcase innovative solutions to meet the youth employment challenge.

The ILO is providing technical support and policy advice to countries within this partnership. One such tool is the recently released guide, Improving prospects for young women and men in the world of work ( Note 3), which specifies basic considerations, trade-offs and experiences which can be drawn upon to develop and implement policies, including national action plans on youth employment.

Youth Employment Network

The Youth Employment Network (YEN), a partnership under the leadership of the heads of the UN, the World Bank and the ILO (and headquartered at the ILO) which aims to tackle the issue of youth employment at the global, national and local levels, has promoted the development of national action plans on youth employment. So far ten countries (Note 2) have stepped forward to act as "lead countries" to champion the development of these national plans, as called for by two recent United Nations General Assembly Resolutions, (Note 4) and to showcase their experiences.

Supporting Lead Countries

The ILO is providing technical support and policy advice to countries within this partnership. Such tools include the recently released guide, Improving prospects for young women and men in the world of work - A guide to youth employment ( Note 3), which specifies basic considerations, trade-offs and experiences which can be drawn upon to develop and implement policies, including national action plans on youth employment. Other tools include the Global Employment Trends for Youth, 2004 which is featured in this issue of the World of Work, and the ILO "School-to-Work" transition surveys ( Note 5), both of which are assisting policymakers in understanding the nature of the youth employment challenge and the views of young people today.

These kinds of tools are being used by policymakers in Indonesia, one of the lead countries. Under the direction of the Indonesia YEN (I-YEN) steering committee a National Youth Employment Action Plan for Indonesia (I-YEAP) has been drafted. This follows a major consultation process led by the I-YEN, involving the Indonesian Government, YEN core partner institutions, workers, employers, non-governmental organizations, youth, and the academic community. This Plan was publicly launched on International Youth Day - 12 August 2004 - and will form the basis of Indonesia's national action plan (NAP) on youth employment to be submitted to the UN General Assembly by September 2004.

Empowering Youth

The YEN sees youth involvement in the development and implementation of these NAPs as vital for the creation of successful youth employment policy, since countries which don't adequately involve youth organizations as partners in the process risk developing policy which is divorced from realities of the problem. Lead countries are increasingly taking this message to heart:

  • In Azerbaijan, youth NGOs, led by the National Youth Council for Azerbaijan (NAYORA) have formed a coalition which will work closely with the Government to provide youth inputs into the development of Azerbaijan's NAP.
  • In Namibia, the Minister of Higher Education has invited the Namibian National Youth Council (NNYC), to assist his ministry in the creation of a task team which will work to develop the country's NAP.

At the international level the YEN has launched a Youth Consultative Group (YCG). This group will be a sounding board for YEN decision makers as well as spokespersons to represent concerns of young people on the function, direction and priorities of the YEN. They will interact with the YEN's High Level Panel of Experts providing input into YEN decision making and policy formulation.

The Group will also act as a catalyst and resource for national youth organizations looking to become involved in the NAP process. The YCG offers regional and international linkages, and provides access to information and tools, including guidelines and workshops which help assist in the effective and substantive participation of youth in employment policymaking at the national level.

Leveraging partnerships

In order to support the national action plan process, the YEN is working to create a network of networks - a community comprised of policymakers, employers and workers, young people and other stakeholders who are united in a common interest and agenda: the vital importance of youth employment as an issue within the framework of the Millennium Development Goals and poverty reduction, as well as the wider development agenda.

Taking this multi-stakeholder approach, the YEN pools their skills and know-how of these disparate groups, leverages their accumulated experiences and resources, and identifies best practices to share, replicate, and bring to scale.

Some examples of these strategic alliances include:

  • Supporting Youth Business China (YBC), a joint initiative of Youth Business International (YBI) and the All-China Youth Federation (ACYF), which is helping young Chinese entrepreneurs succeed, through a package of assistance which includes start-up capital, business mentoring and support services.
  • Partnering with the Dräger Foundation of Germany, which has devoted its XVth Malente Symposium to youth employment, using the YEN framework to bring together 400 participants from across the social and political spectrum to examine and evaluate strategies for youth employment.
  • Encouraging and participating in tripartite meetings on youth employment and emphasizing the powerful role which social dialogue has in addressing the youth employment challenge.

Note 1 - Global Employment Trends for Youth, 2004, International Labour Office, Geneva, 2004, ISBN 92-2-115997-3.

Note 2 - Azerbaijan, Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Mali, Namibia, Rwanda, Senegal and Sri Lanka.

Note 3 - Improving prospects for young women and men in the world of work - A guide to youth employment. Policy considerations and recommendations for the development of national action plans on youth employment. ILO, 2004, ISBN 92-2-115945-0.

Note 4 - The December 2002 Resolution on promoting youth employment (A/RES/57/165) and Resolution A/RES/58/133, of January 2004, concerning policies and programmes involving youth.

Note 5 - School-to-Work transition surveys have been carried out in Indonesia, Bahrain and Vietnam so far.