New ILO study says youth unemployment rising, large increases in Pacific, South-East and South Asia

A new ILO report shows that the number of unemployed youth aged 15 to 24 rose over the past decade, with large increaces in the Pacific, South-East and South Asia.

Press release | BANGKOK | 27 October 2006

BANGKOK(ILO News) – The number of unemployed youth aged 15 to 24 rose over the past decade, while hundreds of millions more are working but living in poverty, according to a new report by the International Labour Office (ILO)1.

Globally the number of unemployed youth increased by 14.8 per cent between 1995 and 2005, from 74 million to 85 million. The largest increase – up a stunning 85.5 per cent from 5.2 to 9.7 million – was in South East Asia and the Pacific. In South Asia ,13.7 million youth were unemployed in 2005, some 10 per cent of the youth labour force in the sub-region. In East Asia there was a decrease in youth unemployment of 8.2 per cent between 1995 and 2005, from 13.1 to 12 million. This was largely driven by a rapid decline in labour force participation among East Asia ’s youth.

The three Asian regions account for more than half (54 per cent) of the world’s youth population of more than one billion. Over the next 15 years South Asia is expected to see an increase in its share of the global youth population from 25 to 28 per cent whereas East Asia is expected to see a considerable decrease in its share of the global youth population from 20 to 17 per cent.

The report found that in most regions of the world young people are nearly three times more likelyto be unemployed than adults, but in South East Asia and the Pacific youth unemployment is more than five times that of adults. In East and South Asia the situation is slightly better than the global average, with a ratio of  2.8 unemployed youth for every unemployed adult.

As well as identifying the main labour market challenges facing youth, the report attempts to clarify common misconceptions regarding youth labour markets including the role of education and educational qualification and young peoples’ attitudes to job security. It also highlights the plight of two other groups -discouraged youth and the young working poor – which together outnumber the unemployed.

Working poverty among youth decreased in most regions, including East Asia and South East Asia and the Pacific. But the situation in South Asia remains critical. In this region four out of 10 young working people remain below the US$1 per day per head extreme poverty level, and only one in 10 young people earn enough to put themselves and their families above the US$2 per day poverty threshold.

The ILO report estimates that at least 400 million decent and productive employment opportunities—simply put, new and better jobs—will be needed in order to harness the full productive potential of today’s youth2.

“Despite increased economic growth, the inability of economies to create enough decent and productive jobs is hitting the world’s young especially hard,” said ILO Director-General Juan Somavia. “Not only are we seeing a growing deficit of decent work opportunities and high levels of economic uncertainty, but this worrying trend threatens to damage the future economic prospects of one of our worlds’ greatest assets – our young men and women.”

The report’s findings include:

· East Asiahas the world’s highest youth labour force participation rate, at 67.3 per cent, however this rate has declined sharply from 75.2 per cent in 1995.

·The youth unemployment rate in South East Asia and the Pacific is 15.8 per cent; in South Asia it is 10 per cent; and in East Asia 7.8 per cent.

· Access to education remains a luxury many households can’t afford. In South Asia more than a third of the youth population was still illiterate in 2002.

· Agriculture remains the dominant employment sector for young people throughout Asia .

· Youth make up 20.9 percent of the total working age population in East Asia, 27.5 per cent in South East Asia and the Pacific, and 29.3 per cent in South Asia . The global average is 25.0 percent (2005 figures).

· Between now and 2015 the global youth labour force will continue to grow, with a particular concentration in South East Asia and the Pacific where 11 million are expected to join the labour market.  In South Asia the increase will be almost 12 million. Other regions expecting growth are sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa region. Elsewhere the youth labour force will start to decrease, most notably in East Asia where labour shortages may be starting to adversely affect economic development.

“Idle youth is a costly group,” the report says, noting that an inability to find employment creates a sense of vulnerability, uselessness and redundancy. There are costs, therefore, to youth themselves, but also to economies and societies as a whole, both in terms of lack of savings, loss of aggregate demand and less spending for investment as well as social costs for remedial services such as preventing crime and drug use.

Young women face even greater challenges in the labour market, as far fewer women are likely to be working or looking for work. The gap in labour force participation rates between young men and women are larger in developing regions – for example, 35 percentage point difference in South Asia, 29 in the Middle East and North Africa, 19 in Latin America and the Caribbean and 16 in both South East Asia and Pacific and sub-Saharan Africa . Such gaps result from cultural traditions, lack of opportunities for young women to combine work and household duties, and a tendency of labour markets to shed young women more rapidly than men when fewer job opportunities are available.

“All this is a threat to the development potential of economies,” Mr. Somavia said. “Today, we are squandering the economic potential of an enormous percentage of our population, especially in developing countries which can least afford it. Focusing on youth, therefore, is a must for any country.”

The report warns that a young person whose first experience of the labour market is long-term unemployment is likely to move between unemployment spells and low-wage employment throughout their working life. The report calls fortargetedand integratednational policies and programmes, fostered by international aid, to reach the most vulnerable youth and to bring them back into the fold of a civil society that can benefit from their participation.

“It is an undeniable tenet – and now one that is recognized within the UN as well as other international organizations and governments – that only through decent employment opportunities can young people get the chance to work themselves out of poverty,” Mr. Somavia said, “Youth employment strategies are a key contribution to meeting the Millennium Development Goals.”

For more information visit or contact:

Sophy Fisher
Regional Information Officer - ILO Bangkok
Tel: + 66 (0) 2288 2482

Krisdaporn Singhaseni
Information Officer – ILO
Tel: +66 (0) 2288 1664

1Global Employment Trends for Youth ( /trends;ISBN 92-2-118627-X and 978-92-2-118627-4 (print), ISBN 92-2-118628-8 and 978-92-2-118628-1 (web pdf).

2The calculation is the sum of 85 million unemployed youth plus 309 million working poor youth (at the US$2 a day level) plus 20 million discouraged youth (4 per cent of 525 million inactive youth).