Press release

ILO warns of a generation “scarred” by a worsening global youth employment crisis

The International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned of a “scarred” generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world.

Press release | 19 October 2011

GENEVA (ILO News) – The International Labour Organization (ILO) has warned of a “scarred” generation of young workers facing a dangerous mix of high unemployment, increased inactivity and precarious work in developed countries, as well as persistently high working poverty in the developing world.

The “Global Employment Trends for Youth: 2011 Update” says the “bad luck of the generation entering the labour market in the years of the Great Recession brings not only current discomfort from unemployment, under-employment and the stress of social hazards associated with joblessness and prolonged inactivity, but also possible longer term consequences in terms of lower future wages and distrust of the political and economic system.”

The report notes that this collective frustration among youth has been a contributing factor to protest movements around the world this year, as it becomes increasingly difficult for young people to find anything other than part-time and temporary work. The report adds that in the Middle East and North Africa, for example, over the past 20 years approximately one in four youth have been unemployed despite progress made in the education of girls and boys.

The report shows that the absolute number of unemployed youth fell slightly since its peak in 2009 (from 75.8 million to 75.1 million in late 2010, a rate of 12.7 per cent) and is expected to decline to 74.6 million in 2011, or 12.6 per cent. However, the report attributes this more to youth withdrawing from the labour market, rather than finding jobs. This is especially true in the Developed Economies and the European Union region.

The update cites difficult trends in Ireland, where the youth unemployment rate (which had risen from 9 per cent in 2007 to 27.5 per cent in 2010) could have been more than 19.3 percentage points higher if those who were either “hiding out” in the education system, or waiting at home for prospects to improve, were included in the analysis.

On the other hand, young people in low-income economies are trapped in a vicious cycle of working poverty. The report says that if youth unemployment were examined alone, one might wrongly guess that young people in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa are doing well compared to the developed economies, when in fact the high employment-to-population ratios of youth in the poorest regions mean the poor have no choice but work. “There are by far more young people around the world that are stuck in circumstances of working poverty than are without work or looking for work”, the update points out.

“These new statistics reflect the frustration and anger that millions of youth around the world are feeling”, said José Manuel Salazar-Xirinachs, Executive Director of the ILO Employment Sector. “Governments are struggling to find innovative solutions through labour market interventions such as addressing skills mismatches, job search support, entrepreneurship training, subsidies to hiring, etc. These measures can make a difference, but ultimately more jobs must come from measures beyond the labour market that aim to remove obstacles to growth recovery such as accelerating the repair of the financial system, bank restructuring and recapitalization to re-launch credit to small and medium sized enterprises, and real progress in global demand rebalancing”.

Other main findings in the report include:

  • Between 2008 and 2009, the number of unemployed youth increased by an unprecedented 4.5 million worldwide. This remarkable increase is better visualized when compared to the average increase of the pre-crisis period (1997-2007) of less than 100,000 persons per year.
  • The youth labour force expanded by far less during the crisis than would be expected: across 56 countries with available information, there were 2.6 million fewer youth in the labour market in 2010 than expected based on longer-term (pre-crisis) trends. Many of the 2.6 million are likely to be discouraged youth waiting for times to improve. They are likely to re-enter the labour force as unemployed, which means that current official youth unemployment rates are likely to understate the full extent of the problem in developed economies.
  • The share of the unemployed that have been looking for work for 12 months or longer is much higher for youth than adults in most developed economies. In Greece, Italy, Slovakia and the United Kingdom, young people were between two and three times as likely to be long-term unemployed compared to adults.
  • Part-time employment rates for youth increased in all developed economies except Germany between 2007 and 2010. The sheer magnitude of the increase in some countries – 17.0 percentage points in Ireland and 8.8 percentage points in Spain, as examples – hint that part-time work is being taken up as the only option available for young jobseekers. By the end of 2010 every other employed young person was in part-time employment in Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway.
  • The share of young workers who would like to work additional hours exceeded the adult share in all European Union countries except Austria and Germany in 2009.

The update offers a series of policy measures for promoting youth employment, among them: develop an integrated strategy for growth and job creation with a focus on young people; improve the quality of jobs through strengthened labour standards; invest in the quality of education and training; and, perhaps most importantly, pursue financial and macroeconomic policies that aim to remove obstacles to economic recovery.

For more information or to request interviews, please contact Houtan Homayounpour, ILO Youth Employment Programme:, +4122/799-8234.