Global Employment Trends for Youth 2015: Scaling Up Investments in Decent Jobs for Youth

Sara Elder
International Labour Organization
Resource Type: 
Publication Date: 
Oct 8, 2015

The youth employment crisis is easing, at least in terms of global trends…

After the period of rapid increase between 2007 and 2010, the global youth unemployment rate settled at 13.0 per cent for the period 2012 to 2014. At the same time, the number of unemployed youth declined by 3.3 million from the crisis peak: 76.6 million youth were unemployed in 2009 compared to an estimated 73.3 million in 2014.

The youth share in total unemployment is also slowly decreasing. As of 2014, 36.7 per cent of the global unemployed were youth. Ten years previously, in 2004, the youth share in total unemployment was 41.5 per cent. While the indicator marks an improvement over time, it is still worthy of note that youth made up only one-sixth of the global population in 2014 (UN, 2014a) and are therefore strongly overrepresented among the unemployed.

But recovery is not universal and many young women and men remain shaken by changing patterns in the world of work.

The 2013 edition of the Global Employment Trends for Youth (ILO, 2013a) set the premise that “it is not easy to be young in the labour market today” in the context of a stubborn jobs crisis, long job queues and increasing scarcity of stable employment. Despite some signs of “good news” presented above, the instability of the situation continues and the global youth unemployment rate today remains well above its precrisis rate of 11.7 per cent (in 2007). Overall, two in five (42.6 per cent) economically active youth are still either unemployed or working yet living in poverty. In the face of such statistics, it is safe to report it is still not easy to be young in today’s labour market.

In the Asian regions and in the Middle East and North Africa, youth unemployment rates worsened between 2012 and 2014. For the developed economies, the youth unemployment rate improved over the same period, but still in 2014, rates exceeded 20 per cent in two-thirds of the European countries and more than one in three (35.5 per cent) unemployed youth had been looking for work for longer than one year. In Central and South-Eastern Europe (non-EU) and CIS, Latin America and the Caribbean and sub-Saharan Africa, youth unemployment rates have demonstrated a declining trend in both the medium and short-run periods. In all regions the stability of career prospects becomes increasingly tentative, but the situation could appear more degenerative in the developed countries where formal employment on a permanent contract was once the standard. In the developed economies, shares of youth involuntarily working part-time or engaged in temporary work have declined from the 1 The global and regional estimates in this report apply the age definition of 15−24 for youth. Differences continue to exist in the way national statistics programmes define and measure youth and there is a growing momentum to increase the upper age limit to better reflect increasing educational attainment and postponement of labour market entry beyond the age of 24. For this reason, the ILO school-to-work transition surveys which serve as the basis for discussion on youth in developing economies in chapters 3 and 4 defines youth as 15−29. Age definitions are given with each figure and table in the notes. 2 crisis peak, but within a longer term increasing trend as more young people take up part-time or temporary work in combination with education.

While the outlook for youth entering the labour market now does look slightly more positive than for those entering over the previous five years, we should not discount the lingering harm accruing to the cohorts who experienced long-term unemployment spells or were forced to take up less-than-ideal jobs during times of low labour demand. In still too many countries, the youth population continue to suffer the effects of the economic crisis and/or austerity measures put in place as a reaction. In these countries, finding work, let alone full-time work, as a youth with no work experience continues to be a drawn-out uphill struggle (see sections 2.3, 2.4 and 3.5).

To benefit from the “demographic dividend” in developing economies implies enabling young people to escape from working poverty.

Youth in developing countries continue to be plagued by working poverty stemming from the irregularity of work and lack of formal employment and social protection. In 2013, more than one-third (37.8 per cent) of employed youth in the developing world were living on less than US$2 per day. Working poverty, therefore, affects as many as 169 million youth in the world. The number increases to 286 million if the near poor are included (living below US$4 per day).

While the working poverty distribution represents a major improvement over the 20-year period between 1993 and 2013, the vulnerability of millions of workers remains an impediment to reaping the benefit of the demographic dividend in numerous low-income countries. Employed youth were 1.5 times more likely to be found in the extreme poverty class than adults and 1.2 times more likely to be in the moderately poor class. Adults were more likely to be found in the groups of the developing middle class and above.

In most low-income countries, at least three in four young workers fall within the category of irregular employment, engaged either in own-account work, contributing family work, casual paid employment or temporary (non-casual) labour. Nine in ten young workers remain in informal employment. This compares to an only slightly improved share of two in three youth in the middle-income countries.

In all countries youth aspire to productive, formal employment opportunities that provide them with a decent wage, relative security and good conditions of work. Unfortunately far too few youth are able to match their aspirations to reality, which means that opportunities to benefit from the demographic dividend in the countries with the greatest potential – principally in Africa – are quickly slipping away.

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