Youth unemployment at all time high

A new ILO study shows that youth unemployment has skyrocketed both in Asia and worldwide over the past decade, making up nearly half the world’s jobless of whom 38 million are in the Asian region.

Press release | BANGKOK | 11 August 2004

BANGKOK – Youth unemployment has skyrocketed both in Asia and worldwide over the past decade, according to a new study by the International Labour Office (ILO).

Across the globe some 88 million young people (aged 15 to 24) are unemployed[1], representing nearly half the world’s jobless. 38 million of them are in the Asian region. In South-East Asia [2] the number is almost 10 million, meaning that more than one in six (16 per cent) of the region’s youth labour force of 60 million is unemployed.

In East Asia [3] more than 11 million young people are unemployed (7 per cent of a youth labour force of 161 million). In South Asia [4] 17 million are without work (13 percent of a youth labour force of 128 million).

The trend in the region is also concerning. In South-East Asia the youth unemployment figure of 10 million is more than double that of a decade ago and this 104 per cent increase is significantly more than the global average increase of 26 per cent.

In East Asia the 2003 figure represents an increase of 21 percent on the 1993 figure (of 9 million). In South Asia the figures are also up 21 per cent, from around 14 million in 1993 to 17 million in 2003.

“We are wasting an important part of the energy and talent of the most educated youth generation the world has ever had,” says ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “Enlarging the chances of young people to find and keep decent work is absolutely critical to achieving the UN Millennium Development Goals.”

Young people have more difficulty finding work than their adult counterparts, and the picture is worse in much of Asia than in the rest of the world. Globally, the 2003 youth unemployment rate was 3.5 times the adult unemployment rate, but in South Asia it was 5.9 times the adult rate and in South-East Asia, 4.8 times. In East Asia the figure was 2.9. 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.

“Global Employment Trends for Youth 2004,”[5] was prepared by the ILO’s Employment Strategy Department. The report found that while youth represent 25 per cent of the working population between the ages of 15 and 64, in 2003 they made up 47 per cent of the 186 million people out of work, worldwide.

Yet tackling youth unemployment makes economic sense. According to the report halving the youth unemployment rate would add at least US$100 billion to economic output in South-East Asian region, equivalent to an increase of more than 4 per cent of the region’s 2003 GDP. In South Asia it would add at least US$149 billion (a GDP increase of more than 4 per cent) and in East Asia US$114 billion (a 1.5 per cent increase). Worldwide it would add US$ 2.2 trillion to global GDP (around 4 per cent of global GDP). Furthermore, as the report points out, people who get a good start to working life are less likely to experience prolonged unemployment later.

The report also found that the growth in the number of young people is rapidly outstripping the ability of economies to provide them with jobs. While the global youth population grew by 10.5 per cent in the last 10 years, youth employment grew by only 0.2 per cent. There were similarly large discrepancies in both South East Asia (youth population growth of 13 per cent, and employment growth of 0.3 per cent) and South Asia (a 22 per cent increase in the youth population versus an 11 per cent increase in youth employment). Only part of this gap can be explained by the fact that more young people are pursuing education for longer periods.

Only in East Asia – dominated by China – is the picture different; with an 11 per cent drop in the youth population during the last decade, and an 18 per cent drop in youth employment in the same period.

The report concludes that in the future the greatest challenge of youth unemployment will fall on developing regions, and the fate of young women and men entering the labour force will very much depend on the rate of economic growth and as well as on an improvement in the employment content of that growth.

The global press release is available at The full report can be downloaded at

For more information please contact:
Krisdaporn Singhaseni
ILO Information Officer
Tel: + 02 288 1664

Sophy Fisher
ILO Regional Information Officer
Tel: + 02 288 2482


[1] All figures are 2003

[2] South-East Asia includes: Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia , East Timor, Fiji, Indonesia , Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Solomon Islands, Thailand, Viet Nam

[3]China, Hong Kong (China), Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Republic of Korea, , Macau (China), Mongolia, Taiwan (China).

[4] Afghanistan , Bangladesh , Bhutan , India , Maldives , Nepal , Pakistan , Sri Lanka

[5] Global Employment Trends for Youth, 2004, International Labour Office, Geneva , 2004, ISBN 92-2-115997-3. Available at /trends