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Global Employment Trends for Youth 2017

Weak recovery in youth labour markets demands a sweeping response

Despite a significant fall in youth unemployment since the height of the economic crisis in 2009, persistent unemployment and a lack of quality job opportunities continue to hamper young people’s quest for decent work.

News | 20 November 2017
Alain Bachellier
GENEVA (ILO News) – Young people are estimated to account for over 35 per cent of the unemployed population worldwide in 2017. While the global youth unemployment rate stabilized at 13.0 per cent in 2016, it is expected to rise slightly to 13.1 per cent this year, according to the ILO’s Global Employment Trends for Youth 2017 report.

The estimated figure of 70.9 million unemployed youth in 2017 is an important improvement from the crisis peak of 76.7 million in 2009, but the number is expected to rise by a further 200,000 in 2018, reaching a total of 71.1 million.

Globally, the sizeable increases in youth unemployment rates observed between 2010 and 2016 in Northern Africa, the Arab States, and Latin America and the Caribbean have been offset by improvements in youth labour markets in Europe, Northern America and sub-Saharan Africa. Overall economic growth continues to be disconnected from employment growth, and economic instability threatens to reverse observed gains in youth employment. The youth-to-adult unemployment ratio has barely changed over the past decade, illustrating the ingrained and extensive disadvantages of young people in the labour market.

The report also highlights the continued vulnerabilities of young women in the labour market. In 2017, the global rate of young women’s labour force participation is 16.6 percentage points lower than that of young men. Unemployment rates of young women are also significantly higher than those of young men, and the gender gap in the rate of young people not in employment, education or training (NEET) is even wider. Globally, the female NEET rate is 34.4 per cent, compared to 9.8 per cent for males.

Addressing these persistent labour market and social challenges faced by young women and men is crucial, not only for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth but also for the future of work and societal cohesion."

Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy
As of 2017, 39 per cent of young workers in the emerging and developing world – 160.8 million youth – are living in moderate or extreme poverty, i.e. on less than $3.10 a day. More than two in every five young people in today’s workforce are unemployed or are working but poor, a striking reality that is impacting society across the world.

For many of them, their present and future lie in the informal economy. Globally, three out of four employed young women and men are in informal employment, compared to three in five adults. In developing countries, this ratio is as high as 19 out of 20 for young women and men.

The youth employment challenge is therefore not just about job creation, but also – even more so – about the quality of work and decent jobs for youth.

“Addressing these persistent labour market and social challenges faced by young women and men is crucial, not only for achieving sustainable and inclusive growth but also for the future of work and societal cohesion,” said Deborah Greenfield, ILO Deputy Director-General for Policy.

Other findings

The report also finds that sectors with some of the highest rates of growth of youth employment in the last decade have included finance, trade and health. Youth are relatively more fluent in technology than older workers and are increasingly harnessing it to make a living, though there are differences across regions depending on the rate of digital diffusion and access.

Skills demands are also shifting. There has been a decline in middle-level skills while demand for high-skilled and less-skilled workers is growing, contributing to greater polarization in the labour market. The demand for high-skilled youth has grown strongly in high-income countries, whereas in developing and emerging countries there has been a rise in low-skill work. Employment of young semi-skilled workers contracted in most countries, across all development levels. This trend towards job polarization could be accentuated by new technology and could potentially exacerbate existing inequalities.

A growing number of young jobseekers and young entrepreneurs are taking to the internet – i.e. the platform and gig economies – where they find new and diverse forms of employment, such as crowd work, which can offer flexibility and expand income earning opportunities. There are however important risks, including low incomes, no guarantee of any continuity in employment or income, and lack of access to work-related benefits.

Young people often start their working lives in temporary employment with the knowledge that they may never attain ‘job security’. They are more likely to transition to stable and satisfactory employment in developed and emerging economies than in developing countries. Further investments in quality education and skills development are critical since the longer a young person studies, the shorter the transition time into employment, the report shows.

The report calls for policies that take into account the fast changing contours of the world of work driven by technology and that enable young women and men to be ahead of the curve. “Investing in lifelong learning mechanisms, digital skills, and sectoral strategies that expand decent jobs and address the vulnerabilities of the most disadvantaged should be prioritized in national policies,” said Azita Berar Awad, Director of the ILO’s Employment Policy Department.

The report calls for strategic multi-stakeholder partnerships in the framework of the Global Initiative on Decent Jobs for Youth, the overarching platform under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to scale up action and impact on youth employment.